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Should schools check out volunteers?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 8, 2008
— Schools run regular lockdown drills.

Police and other agencies work with schools to track potentially dangerous students.


Police train in the tactics of stopping an armed school intruder.


Cameras monitor school entrances controlled by electric locks—or soon will.


What's the next step in making Janesville schools safe?


It might be background checks for school volunteers.


That topic came up Tuesday night when school safety consultant Kenneth Trump spoke to a small crowd of Janesville school parents and officials.


A federal grant is paying for Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services of Cleveland, to assess the district's readiness to deal with all kinds of threats.


In a question period, a volunteer said she had always wondered why schools don't screen volunteers, as does another agency she works with, Big Brothers and Big Sisters.


The woman told of a school field trip in which each adult volunteer took charge of four children.


"You really don't know who these parents are," the woman said.


On the other hand, the woman said, she understands that schools are trying to get more parents involved in schools.


Karen Schulte, director of student services, said school officials have discussed the topic. A major concern is the cost.


Most of the thousands of people volunteer in the schools are not screened, said district information coordinator Sheryl Miller.


Nevertheless, Miller said she'd like to see a discussion of background checks, and she'd like to hear from the volunteers themselves.


Trump said some districts nationwide do background checks, at least on some volunteers.


Often when a school board considers background checks, someone will make a lot of noise about privacy, Trump said, and the opposition viewpoint will get blown out of proportion.


Trump encouraged people to stand up and back the school board or administration if such a proposal ever comes up, to counter naysayers.


Trump said technology exists that allows a person to swipe a driver's license through a machine that automatically checks a sex-offender database.


If such technology is used, officials should prepare for how to handle that person, Trump advised.


Trump said technology is nice, but the first and best line of defense is a well-trained, alert staff and students who care enough to alert officials to potential threats.


One other gap in school district security came up at the meeting: The district's administrative center, where the meeting was held.


The Educational Services Center does not have its own camera/electronic entry system. Trump said it should have one, like any corporate office.


Schulte said she hoped to pay for a system at the ESC with money left over from a grant that will pay for electric locks at the middle schools and charter schools this year.


Trump said school safety should be a major emphasis of school officials, but it shouldn't be blown out of proportion.


"Schools are safe, but the danger is still out there," he said.



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