Background Checks requirements for parents and volunteers
A new law went into effect on Dec. 31, 2014, changing state policy on background checks for school employees and volunteers. Act 153 of 2014 (known as the Child Protective Services Law) requires any unpaid, adult volunteer who has direct contact, routine interaction, or responsibility for the welfare of children in public schools to provide a series of background checks:
- A clearance statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (formerly known as the Department of Public Welfare);
- A Pennsylvania State Police criminal history report; and
- A written statement that the volunteer has been a resident of Pennsylvania for the past 10 years and is not disqualified from service based upon criminal convictions (i.e., the same criminal convictions that would disqualify an individual from school employment).
Volunteers applying for a paid position or volunteers who have lived outside of Pennsylvania in the last 10 years will also have to obtain an FBI criminal history report, which includes fingerprinting.
Some school districts already require one or more of these background checks, but under the new state law, volunteers in all school districts must obtain them.
The requirements for volunteers obtaining background checks begin July 1, 2015. Specifically, any new volunteer will have to submit these three background checks before rendering any volunteer service, starting July 1, 2015. These volunteers will then have to renew these background checks every three years.
Parents, retirees, or other individuals who have volunteered in the past and have been required to obtain background checks will have to seek renewals of their background checks within 36 months of the issuance date of the background check. If the background checks have various issuance dates, and volunteers wish to renew their checks at the same time, the deadline for renewal is the oldest issuance date of the background check.
The law provides two exceptions to the above deadlines for current school volunteers:
- Those who were approved by schools to be volunteers without submitting any background checks prior to July 1, 2015, will have until July 1, 2016, to obtain the background checks.
- Those who were approved by schools to be volunteers with background checks that are older than 36 months have until July 1, 2016, to obtain a renewal of those background checks.
Once original or renewed background checks are obtained, they may be used throughout the school for any program, activity, or service.
Applying for Background Checks
Information, instructions, and links to apply for these background checks may be found on the Department of Human Services' website.
- Department of Human Services clearance statement: $10 (fee to be waved beginning July 25, 2015)
- State Police criminal history report: $10 (fee to be waved beginning July 25, 2015)
- FBI report (if applicable): $28.75
Volunteers working in public schools or school-sponsored functions of public schools who require an FBI criminal history report may obtain them from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. (More information at the Department of Human Services' website.) Volunteers are responsible for the costs of background checks, although schools may choose to pay for the costs of volunteers’ background checks.
Volunteers will need to submit copies of their background checks to the school with which they are volunteering. The school will maintain copies of these background checks, while the volunteer retains the original documents.
Volunteers who are arrested or convicted of an offense that would constitute grounds for denying employment to school employees or who have been named as a perpetrator in an indicated or founded report of child abuse must notify the school entity in which they volunteer. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor of the third degree.
“Direct contact with children” means providing “care, supervision, guidance, or control” of children. This may include serving as a volunteer in the classroom for academic work or at special events, such as class parties. It also may include serving as a volunteer for a school field trip or other school-related function.
“Routine interaction” means that a volunteer has “regular, ongoing contact” with children that is integral to their volunteer responsibilities.
“Being responsible for the welfare of children” means that a volunteer is “acting in lieu of or on behalf of a parent.” For example, a volunteer who operates an after-school club for the school and has responsibility for children during that club could be required to obtain background checks since, during the time children are participating in the club, the volunteer is responsible for the child’s care in lieu of the parent.