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New Policy on School Volunteer Background Checks Stalled

The school board looked to the state for guidance during a workshop on how to revise the district’s policy on criminal background checks for volunteers. The problem is the state has only detailed strict background screening guidelines for employees and less-strict guidelines for contractors through the Jessica Lunsford Act. “There is simply no clear statute that says what is the criteria for a volunteer,” said board attorney, Dennis Alfonso. “The law leaves it to you to draw the line.” The district’s policy on criminal background checks for volunteers is historically more stringent than that for contractors who might have little or no student contact. The challenge is to find a way to align the district’s policy with state law without barring suitable volunteers over minor criminal offenses, or allowing non-suitable volunteers to slip through the cracks. Neither option appears to be without potential lawsuits, board members said, due in part to “loopholes” in the Jessica Lunsford Act. Safety and Security Coordinator Mario Littman said he has been working with an out-of-state contractor to ameliorate the problem, close loopholes in the Jessica Lunsford Act, and bring Hernando county Schools to a more uniform standard for volunteer criminal background screens. “Our job isn’t to bar people; our job is to get them through,” said Littman. In light of additional revisions needed, another copy of the draft will be presented again to the board in late February, and considered at that time for potential approval.

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