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Officials say extra security helps ensure kids’ safety

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After three background checks and eight kids, grandchildren and foster children attending Northeast Elementary School, a Greenwood grandmother still has to leave her ID in the office when she comes in to read with kids or throw a birthday party.

Paulette Slevin has volunteered a few times a month for the past three years at the school, which four of her grandchildren attend. She wanted to be more involved with their school and see how they were doing in class.

Each time she goes, she has to wear a badge that identifies her as a volunteer and leave her photo ID with the office. And she has gone through three background checks to make sure she has no felony convictions or recent misdemeanor arrests.

Parents and grandparents can volunteer in classrooms, chaperone field trips or come to have lunch with the children, but they have to go through security checks first. The more time they will spend with kids, the stricter the checks. Relatives going to lunch or entering the school have to leave an ID, and volunteers spending more time with students in classrooms and outside activities go through background checks of their criminal history and interviews with school officials about themselves.

Here’s what you need to know

Schools have different requirements for letting people in buildings based on how long they will be with the kids.

Eating lunch

Leave an ID with office: Greenwood, Franklin

Must be on parent list or have permission from parent and school: All school districts

Volunteering/chaperoning field trips

Limited background check: Center Grove, Franklin, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson. Looks at felonies and misdemeanor arrests in the past year and felonies and misdemeanor convictions.

Extensive background check: Clark-Pleasant, Greenwood. Looks at all felony and misdemeanor arrests and convictions for the entire country.

The schools do either limited or extensive background checks through the Indiana State Police or private companies, which will look for any record of felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies and recent misdemeanor convictions automatically disqualify someone from volunteering.

Background checks became important a few years ago after parents started expressing concern about the people being allowed in schools, Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

Schools either pay a yearly fee for extensive background checks or pay for each one individually. Limited background checks, which only show arrests for the past year and any convictions, are free.

Greenwood Community School Corp. pays a $95 yearly fee to run extensive background checks through the Indiana State Police. Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School Corp. pays $28 for each extensive check, which are done on volunteers who come to the school more than once.

With those checks, school officials look for anything out of the ordinary, Greenwood director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said.

“Anything that would make us think the kids or staff would be unsafe, like if they have history of violence, those repeated incidents are what concern us,” he said. “It’s that lack of discipline. We don’t want physical violence around kids.”

At Clark-Pleasant Community School Corp., volunteers are treated almost like employees, assistant superintendent John Schilawski said. The school runs an extensive background check on them, which goes back through their criminal history across the country and shows every felony and misdemeanor arrest and conviction.

Because the person will be spending a lot of time with students and without the supervision of other adults, such as when they coach a team, school officials have to be certain they are trustworthy, he said. They are interviewed like a job candidate about their background and have to provide references.

There are a few exceptions schools will make if an arrest or conviction shows up on a record, officials say.

If a person was arrested on a misdemeanor charge 20 years ago and the case was dismissed, the school would talk to the parent about what happened and let them volunteer if nothing more recent came up in their record, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said.

“We would consider the nature of the charge, the fact that it was dismissed and the time frame,” he said. “With something that happened that long ago, it may not be an issue.”

But felonies, no matter how long ago they happened, would disqualify someone from volunteering, Clendening said.

While all schools require limited or extensive background checks for volunteers and chaperones, at most schools parents eating lunch with students simply have to have their identity confirmed and leave a photo ID with the office. The requirements are more relaxed because they are entering a highly supervised situation, won’t spend a lot of time with the kids or won’t have direct contact with other students, Prusiecki said.

A person must be listed in the school database as a parent or guardian in order to enter the schools. Even a sibling or grandparent would be turned down at the doors if they hadn’t arranged a visit with the school and parents, Schilawski said.

Only Franklin requires limited background checks on parents entering a school to eat lunch with their kids. Everyone entering a school building must have a background check done and leave a photo ID with the front office, including volunteers.

Creekside Elementary School parent and volunteer Erin Bollhorst said she welcomes the security measures because they protect her kids.

“I’m pleased they’re doing it for safety reasons,” she said. “It makes me feel like my kids are going to be safer if they’re monitoring everyone.”

The security measures are not in place to keep parents out. Schools encourage parents to be involved in their children’s education, officials say.

“There are some competing values involved,” Schilawski said. “One is the desire to have as much community involvement as possible in schools, along with the necessity to ensure student and staff safety is our primary responsibility.”

Slevin has worked with kids as they learn to read and found out about the areas where her grandchildren struggle. She helps them with those subjects outside school, and if she didn’t volunteer, she might never know where they were struggling, she said.

Anyone who can volunteer should not let the security checks stop them from wanting to participate in their child’s education, she said. The background checks make the school safer for students, teachers and volunteers in the schools, she said.

“I don’t think that (the background checks) should deter anybody,” she said. “Parents should feel privileged we have that to protect our children.”

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