Fingerprinting mandatory for Urbana school volunteers

By Megan Kelly

The Urbana School Board unanimously passed a proposal during its meeting Tuesday that will require volunteers to undergo a background check. The policy requires the Urbana School District to provide the funds to fingerprint all of Urbana’s regular volunteers rather than charging volunteers a fingerprinting fee as had been proposed earlier this school year.

Mark Netter, president of the board, said its members voted for this policy because they thought it would make schools safer.

In previous years, volunteers gave the school district identifying information, which was used to complete an in-state background check. Netter said this was not the best way to thoroughly check their histories.

“If a volunteer had committed a crime in another state, his or her record would still show up clean,” Netter said. “Fingerprinting enables us to check our volunteers’ backgrounds nationwide.”

Although the policy was passed this week, the district began to require its volunteers be fingerprinted at the Family Information Center in Champaign at the beginning of this school year. Netter said the FBI examined the fingerprints and performed a national background check on the volunteers.

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Bob Steltman is an English adviser who coordinates a tutoring program at Thomas Paine Elementary School with University students. Although he said he understands why the district decided to implement the new system, he hopes it finds ways to make the process easier for people giving their time, especially student volunteers.

“With their busy college schedules, it’s often hard for them to find time to volunteer, let alone to go to a separate place and be fingerprinted,” Steltman said. “I hope the district finds ways to make volunteering easier.”

Steltman also said that there was a backup with the checks, and, consequently, many of his volunteers were unable to begin working at the school until last week.

Vanessa Prokuski, senior in LAS, participates in Steltman’s tutoring program. She said she was slightly inconvenienced by the new security measures but believes it was worthwhile.

“If a school trusts anyone to volunteer, they may attract the wrong kind of people,” Prokuski said. “I think that making students get fingerprinted is a great safety precaution.”

The fingerprinting process is expensive, and the district had considered charging each volunteer $54. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board decided the district will be required to cover the costs instead.

“We’ll add that to our budget,” said Mark Schultz, spokesman for the Urbana School District. “And then make the appropriate adjustment to the budget to make sure we have the funds to take care of it.”

Steltman said he could not consciously allow his students to pay and would have ended his program at Thomas Paine if the district had decided to charge the volunteers.

Prokuski, however, said she would have paid the money if the district needed it.

“I feel like I should be volunteering for the principle of the matter,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to pay to help out, but if it got to the point where Urbana needed the money, then I would have paid.”

Netter said he was pleased that the district would cover the background check’s cost.

“We have hundreds of volunteers and they are of enormous value to us,” he said. “We want to encourage our volunteers, but we must take prudent steps to make sure the people working with our children are the right people to do the job.”