A background check policy enacted by Marietta City Schools in September has resulted in some decrease in volunteer numbers but not on the scale some critics had feared.
Nearly 400 people have had the checks performed and received photographic identification badges from the district office. Principals say that in most cases, they have enough volunteers, although some areas are stretched a little thin and at least one Marietta Middle School field trip may be in jeopardy.
The checks cost $30 and search for felonies and violent misdemeanors within the last seven years. Some people had objected to them because of the cost, and others were concerned about privacy issues.
In October, Marietta Athletic Boosters President Steve Riley said the policy could devastate his organization and questioned why volunteers who work at concession stands and have no or very little interaction with students should be subject to the checks.
Those concerns led to a change in the policy, said Greg Gault, president of the board of education. Now, background checks are not required for "people that didn't have direct, one-on-one contact with students," he said.
Riley said that change has worked out well for the boosters.
The Marietta Board of Education voted in September to require background checks for volunteers.
The checks cost $30 and look for felonies and violent misdemeanors within the last seven years.
The checks are good for five years.
The district recently decided to exempt volunteers who have no one-on-one contact with students, such as concession stand workers, from the policy.
Some schools have seen a decrease in volunteer numbers, but in most cases have had enough people to cover their needs.
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"Most of our volunteers are concession workers for the events," he said. "There isn't any real contact with the students through the concession stands."
Gault noted that no official vote had been taken on the change, so the board may need to take that action at a future meeting.
The switch seems to have addressed most of the questions raised about the policy, Gault said.
"I have not heard any issues, any problems, since that time," he said.
District schools utilize volunteers for everything from office work to helping students who missed class catch up to chaperoning dances and field trips.
The latter is a concern this spring for Marietta Middle School.
Teacher Dion Prunty said she needs 30 to 35 volunteers to chaperone the annual sixth-grade trip to COSI in Columbus and so far, only 14 have signed up.
"We're most likely not going to be able to do it," she said. "Right now, it doesn't look like it unless something changes pretty quick."
Prunty said she knows of some people who don't want to have the check done, but she can't say that's the only reason there aren't enough chaperones signed up for the trip.
"I've personally heard parents say, 'I'm not doing it because I'm not going to pay the money for something that happens once a year,'" she said.
Washington Elementary School Principal Scott Kratche said his school's list of potential volunteers is a bit smaller, but they're generally not having trouble getting people to do what needs to be done.
"In the past, we've had a lot of volunteers (signed up), but not everybody would actually come and volunteer," Kratche said.
About 70 people have had background checks and been approved for work at Washington, he said.
Having the policy is "helping to make sure that the people that do come are appropriate for having access to children," Kratche said. "Some people have chosen not to apply. I think it was just an issue with it, a personal issue."
One area the school has seen a notable decrease in is the mentoring program, which aims to provide at-risk students with needed one-on-one attention.
Fifth-grade teacher Tasha Werry said there are between 25 and 30 adults who have been approved by the district, down about a dozen from last year. To compensate, the program has used more members of the middle school's National Junior Honor Society as mentors.
Werry said several Marietta College students have participated in the program before. The fee and additional paperwork of a background check might be a deterrent for them, she said, but added the safety aspect of the policy cannot be discounted.
"We also have to remember that these people, whoever we have, are working with students for half an hour, by themselves, out in the hall," Werry said.
Each of the district's schools has funding in place to help people who cannot afford the fee. Kratche noted that one parent at Washington Elementary has offered to cover the fee for those in need.
Amy Ferguson volunteers in multiple buildings in the district. On Wednesday, she was at Washington, helping kindergartners learn to tie their shoes. She said she had some initial concerns about the way the checks were being performed, including that it would have applied to concession workers.
"I wasn't really keen on it, but I would do it for the kids and the teachers I work for," Ferguson said.
"I think we all could see the need for it ... but the initial knee-jerk reaction was over the top," she said. "Now that they've adjusted, I think everyone's a little happier."
Putnam Elementary Principal Joe Finley said the new policy has had no impact on volunteers at his school. As an example, he pointed to a recent visit by COSI, where three extra volunteers were scheduled in case someone had to cancel at the last minute.
"Everybody showed up, so we had extra people," he said.
Putnam volunteer Janet Huggins said she was a little surprised when the policy was enacted, but she supports it.
"I think it helps," she said. "It's for our safety."
High school Principal William Lee said to his knowledge, the impact of the policy at his school has been minimal. No coaches or advisers have expressed concerns to him about not having enough volunteers, he said.
"It has had an effect on the numbers, but I don't think it's been overwhelming," he said, noting he's processed half a dozen applications in the last week or so with crew team trips on the horizon.