Will new Pennsylvania background check law take things a step too far?

Penn Volunteer Law imageStarting this month, Pennsylvania schools have some new rules in place to protect children from potential abuse. But some are concerned that the state’s new background check law is inconsistent and leaves school districts to attempt to navigate a tricky situation. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed a law that was a combination of 23 previous child-protective-service bills, in which all school volunteers that have contact with children must undergo three types of background checks: child abuse checks, state police checks and FBI fingerprint criminal background checks. (If a volunteer has been a resident of the state for at least 10 years and signs a document saying they have not been convicted of crimes in other states, the FBI check may be waived.) However, the law does not specify a distinction between volunteers and visitors, leaving that up to the school districts to interpret. Is a one-time volunteer considered a visitor? Do parents who help out with their children’s birthday parties but do not otherwise spend time at the school need to undergo background checks to get into the classroom? Not only that, not all school districts may interpret the law the same way when it comes to visitor vs. volunteer, and the way a district interprets the law may be different than how attorneys for the state would. Some are concerned about the inconsistencies, saying that it is too open to interpretation, while others are concerned that the cost of completing background checks may discourage much-needed volunteers from helping out at schools or other non-profits in which adults interact with children. (The background checks would cost $48.75, and must be repeated every three years.) The law only indicates that anyone “responsible for the welfare of a child or having direct contact with children” must undergo the three types of background checks.]]>

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