Background Checks and Volunteering in Schools

A background check to chaperone a field trip? Fingerprinting to volunteer at the school musical? If you have not been required to already, you may soon need three clearances to volunteer with your child’s school district or volunteer with children through a nonprofit.

In October of 2014, a new bill was signed into law which, among other things, requires background checks for certain unpaid volunteers. The new rules are based on recommendations from a Task Force on Child Protection established by the state Legislature after the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. While criminal background checks have been required by law of teachers and staff for a number of years, under the new law, an adult applying for an unpaid position as a volunteer responsible for the welfare of a child, or having direct contact with children will need clearances.

There have been multiple interpretations of when clearances are due, depending on whether the volunteer is a new volunteer or a current volunteer, and several school districts and nonprofits have set their own deadlines. Many districts and nonprofits are requiring all volunteers to obtain their clearances by July 1, 2015, a date which is fast approaching.

In any event, there has been a significant influx of background check submissions, resulting in delays in completing the background checks. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services received 28,000 requests during the week of March 16, 2015 alone, which was 4,000 more than the week before that. By comparison, according to the department, in 2014 it received a total of 587,545 requests, which is about 49,000 a month or 12,000 a week. As such, if you need clearances, it is advisable to begin the process now.

Which Clearances Are Needed and What Do They Cost?

Applicable volunteers must obtain the following clearances:

  • Report of criminal history from the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) – $10.00; and
  • Child Abuse History Clearance from the Department of Human Services (Child Abuse) – $10.00.

Additionally, a fingerprint based federal criminal history (FBI) submitted through thePennsylvania State Police or its authorized agent may be required if the volunteer has lived outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the last 10 years. However, school districts and non-profits are permitted to require this FBI clearance for all volunteers, even though the volunteer may be exempt under the law.

The FBI clearance costs around $27.00 through the Department of Human Services and $28.75 through the Department of Education. Volunteers who are not required to obtain the FBI Clearance because they have been a continuous resident of Pennsylvania for the past 10 years must swear or affirm in writing that they are not disqualified from service based upon a conviction of an offense under §6344.

How Long Are Clearances Valid?

Clearances are valid for a period of 36 months. Clearances must be renewed every 36 months while the person is volunteering with children.

Who Pays For Clearances?

The volunteer is responsible for paying the cost of the required clearances. However, some agencies choose to pay for clearances for their volunteers and are able to establish business accounts to pay for clearances. The only time an agency is required to bear the cost of the clearance is when there is reasonable belief that the volunteer was arrested or convicted of an offense that would deny participation or named as a perpetrator in an indicated or founded report. In these situations, the agency must immediately require the volunteer to obtain their clearances.

How Does a Volunteer Obtain Clearances?

The Child Abuse, PSP and FBI clearances can all be applied and paid for electronically. The FBI clearance also requires a fingerprint submission. All necessary instructions and links to apply for these clearances can be found here.

Are There Any Other Requirements?

If a volunteer is arrested for or convicted of an offense that would constitute grounds for denying participation in a program, activity or service, or is named as a perpetrator in a founded or indicated report, the volunteer must provide the administrator or their designee with written notice not later than 72 hours after the arrest, conviction or notification that the person has been listed as a perpetrator in the statewide database.

A volunteer who willfully fails to disclose information as required above commits a misdemeanor of the third degree and shall be subject to discipline up to and including termination or denial of a volunteer position.

The new law can be viewed here.

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