Schools move to 5-year fingerprinting for volunteers

Humboldt County School Board approved requiring fingerprints every five years as opposed to every year for regular school volunteers.

Current district volunteers submit fingerprints on a yearly basis. Recent state legislation, however, requires submission of fingerprints at least once every five years.

Fingerprint reports make up part of the background check process used to make sure a volunteer is appropriate for interaction with children.

A felony charge means an automatic removal of a volunteer. The district also looks for record of child abuse, driving under the influence and drug charges.

Superintendent Dave Jensen suggested the district use the National Association of School Superintendents definition for a “regular volunteer.” It defines a “regular volunteer” as one “who interacts with students, on average, at least four times per month and / or once per week.”

He said the yearly fingerprint requirement often creates a barrier to volunteering and parental involvement in schools due to cost and time requirements. Increasing the time between fingerprintings may encourage more parents to get involved in schools.

Running fingerprints every five years poses a few problems, as well. “A lot can happen in five years,” Jensen said. The district’s current volunteer code of conduct document asks a volunteer to tell the school’s principal if arrested for a misdemeanor or felony sex, drug or weapon related offense. If a volunteer doesn’t self-report, however, the district may not learn about the offense for up to five years.

Between fingerprintings, the district can learn of volunteers arrested in Humboldt County, but not if arrested elsewhere. Fingerprint reports are run against state and federal criminal databases.

Jensen said some self-reporting has occurred in the past, and fingerprinting has also turned up unreported arrests.

The school district’s attorney, John Doyle, stated that an arrest doesn’t mean guilt. Jensen replied that he preferred to “err on the side of caution” since it involved interaction with children.

The board can vote to shorten the time span between fingerprintings in the future, if necessary.

The board also approved allocating bond funds toward replacing some of the broken and antiquated playground equipment at McDermitt Combined School. The project will require three bids, and Jensen anticipated that it will cost no more than $100,000. Some of the playground equipment has damaged students’ clothing, and Jensen wants to replace the equipment before it causes injury.