A new Kentucky law requiring background checks on school volunteers has led to a massive processing backlogand forced some schools to operate without them.
The law was designed to protect children from volunteers with criminal records. Instead, schools in Jefferson County have been forced to cancel activities that depend on volunteersnot because so many have failed their background checks, but because so many are awaiting the results of those checks.
“It left us without any parent volunteers,” Schaffner Elementary School principal Amelia Tyra said of the law. “The first part of the year is just packed with activities, and almost everything we do has volunteers.”
Tyra and other principals announced the law to parents at orientations before school started. Some schools wrote to regular volunteers, asking them to submit the information for checks as soon as possible.
But some volunteers didn’t get their forms in until after school started, and many are still waiting for the results.
“There’s a huge volume of forms coming in,” said Marty Bell, deputy superintendent of the Jefferson County Public Schools.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts does the checks and it has been taking about two weeks for the state office to return the completed background checks to the Jefferson County district, Bell said.
Many argue the problem is not with the effects of the law, but with the law itself. Some say it is too broad, while others consider the process of submitting the forms dangerous because they contain volunteers’ Social Security numbers.
“At any point in this process you are vulnerable to the fastest growing crime in the country, identity [theft],” Terri Jo Ross, president of the Eastern High School Parent Teacher Student Association, wrote recently in a letter to all PTA presidents in the district. “This is not a good time for school volunteers in Kentucky.”