Do you know that the Kingston City School Board of Education is recommending several changes to the School Volunteers policy (Policy #1250)? The policy begins:
The Board of Education recognizes that the use of volunteers strengthens school/community relations through positive participation, builds an understanding of school programs among interested citizens, and can assist District employees in providing more individualized and enriched opportunities in instruction. The Board encourages volunteers from all backgrounds and age groups who are willing to share their time, training, experience or personal characteristics to benefit the students of the District.
From the opening paragraph, it is clear that the purpose of the policy is to encourage volunteers within the school. The policy explains both what the school personnel and the school volunteer must do when someone wishes to become a school volunteer. However I am concerned that the proposed policy changes, while well-meaning to increase the safety of our students, may adversely impact parent and community members who volunteer or wish to begin volunteering in the schools of our District and may actually cause the school district to have fewer volunteers in our schools.
What are the proposed changes to the School Volunteers policy ?
- Volunteers are classified in one of 3 tiers.
- Tier 1 volunteers will include most parent group (PTO/PTA) volunteers who volunteer occasionally and have limited contact with students (for example field day volunteers or fundraising volunteers). No volunteer application is required so district personnel will not be required to perform any screening of these volunteers.
- Tier 2 volunteers include parents/community members who volunteer regularly in the classroom (for example classroom reading, room parent) and also field trip chaperons. Tier 2 volunteers must complete a Volunteer Application Form which requires 2 non-family references and disclosure of any criminal convictions. The supervising personnel must contact both references and the Board of Education must approve the volunteer.
- Tier 3 volunteers include volunteers who assist regularly with programs outside school hours (extra-curricular and co-curricular clubs/activities and athletics). Tier 3 volunteers must complete the same requirements as Tier 2 volunteers. In addition Tier 3 volunteers must be fingerprinted (at district expense) and approved by the New York State Education Department.
- A note is added to the Volunteer Agreement and Expectations (see Volunteer Application Form link above) that the volunteer ‘will not use tobacco and alcohol when volunteering’ so chaperons know they may not smoke or consume alcohol on field trips even if they are in a location where such is allowed for those of legal age.
How could these changes, which seem reasonable on first glance, possibly reduce the number of volunteers in the school?
More volunteers are going to have to complete volunteer applications (field trip chaperons in particular) and potentially be fingerprinted. A parent reported at the February 19, 2014 BOE meeting that 90 band parent volunteers could potentially have to be fingerprinted due to their involvement in the band marching season. Several questions/concerns come to my mind:
- Will supervising personnel (building principals) have adequate time to process all applications for field trip chaperons or will fewer parents be allowed to serve as chaperons due to application work load?
- What if there is not a BOE meeting between the time that the notice for a field trip goes out and the date of the field trip? Parents who have not previously completed a volunteer application form for some other reason will not be able to serve as chaperons so there will be fewer volunteers interacting with the school community.
- Will some parents who simply want to go on the class fieldtrip to UPAC with their child feel uncomfortable applying if they have had a criminal conviction in the past? Is shoplifting when you were a teenager okay but DWI is not? Does it matter how long ago the conviction was? Do traffic violations count? Would some applicants decide to just not bother volunteering rather than to find out whether they would still qualify even with a conviction history? In fact how/who will determine what level of conviction would disqualify someone from being a volunteer?
- Will volunteer applications be treated the same from building to building so all parents/community members are given equal opportunity to volunteer?
- If conviction information is revealed, what will knowledge of this sort of personal information potentially have on the relationship between the principal and the parent?
- We are totally relying on the applicant being honest in reporting criminal convictions at Tier 2 since fingerprinting is not required so if someone has committed a ‘serious’ offense (child abuse for example), are they really going to report it?
What should you do if you have questions or concerns about the proposed changes to the School Volunteers Policy #1250?
The Kingston Board of Education responded to parents’ request to delay approval of the proposed policy changes and sent Policy #1250 back to the BOE Policy committee which will meet on Friday March 7, 2014 9:00am. Now parents/community members need to present any concerns to the BOE so they may be addressed and incorporated into effective changes for the School Volunteers Policy.
- The District Wide Parents’ Council (DWPC) VOLUNTEER POLICY SURVEY is a completely anonymous, 9 question, mostly multiple choice survey that will give you the opportunity to give feedback on the proposed policy changes. I encourage everyone to participate in this survey before March 6, 2014.
- If you are comfortable giving individual voice to your concerns, write a letter to the Kingston Board of Education expressing your concerns immediately. DWPC has drafted a School Volunteers Policy 1250 Sample Letter (click or see letter below) that can be copied and sent by you to the Board of Education in its entirety or edited by you to address your specific concerns with the proposed changes. This is like letters that action groups often distribute for you to contact your local elected officials.
- Join with other parents in expressing your concerns by attending the DWPC meeting on Thursday March 6, 2014 9:30-11:30am or if you can not attend, contact your DWPC school representative through your school PTA/PTO and ask your DWPC rep to bring your concerns to the DWPC meeting. Also speak with other parents at your PTA/PTO meeting so they know about the proposed policy changes.
- Attend the BOE Coffee & Conversation on March 12, 2014 so the Board of Education members in attendance can take your concerns back to the BOE meeting on March 19, 2014
- Attend the Board of Education meetings on March 5 or March 19 and share your concerns during Public Comment. Note that it would be best to not wait until March 19 to express your concerns as that will give the board very little time to consider your concerns since the vote for approval of the policy is scheduled for the March 19 meeting.
The Daily Freeman reported initial concerns regarding the proposed policy changes right after they were announced at the February 19, 2014 BOE meeting.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this post are the personal opinions of myself, Jolyn Safron, and have not been endorsed or approved by the parent groups of which I am a part unless explicitly stated.
**[DWPC Sample Letter]
[Please remove parenthesized italic print before sending and please add a closing of your choice]
Dear Board Of Education Member,
[You may specifically address them by name- see the district website under the BOARD OF EDUCATION headline for member information]
It has come to my attention that Board Policy 1250, the School Volunteers Policy is currently under review and that certain changes to the policy have been drafted. I thank you for the concern you are showing for the safety of all students in our District, however I do have several concerns that I would like you to consider:
[You may use these bullets as listed, delete ones you do not agree with or add your own concerns]
- When you list SUPERVISING ADMISTRATOR, who are you referring to?
- Will there be consistency in implementation of this policy in ALL the Buildings of the KCSD?
- How are teachers/personnel supposed to watch both Students and Volunteers? Is that not just adding to their work load instead of relieving some of the burden – the purpose of soliciting volunteer help?
- Some of the Tier Example descriptions appear to overlap each other, some clarity may be needed.
- Timing: If these applications need to be reviewed by administration, possibly the BOE and clearance from the state may be necessary, how far in advance must parents apply for activities that may not even be posted.
- Cost: What are the costs involved to process the applications? Will the cost of fingerprinting be covered by the person applying or the School District?
- Number of Current School Volunteers: How many volunteers does this district rely on currently? Have they all filed an application? If not, Will they feel comfortable doing so?
- New Volunteers: How will these requirements be conveyed to the public? Most parents are used to just “volunteering” to go on a Field trip or helping out in the classroom.
- Should volunteer training be provided?
[Some closing should be made to either the email or written/typed letter. You may wish to close with one of these additional comments.]
Thank you fo reading my concerns and I hope your comments during any Board deliberations will reflect them.
I invite you to contact me at ___________ so that we can discuss these concerns further.
**[End of DWPC Sample Letter]