Background checks now required of Milford school volunteers

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An updated criminal records check policy left parents upset in the Milford Exempted Village School District (MEVSD) at the board of education meeting on Aug. 16.

Ohio law requires that all individuals who apply for an educator license have a baseline background check through the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) and FBI. If residing in Ohio continuously, the FBI background check has to be updated every five years.

House Bill 190, the Background Check Requirement bill that passed on Nov. 14, 2007, made it mandatory to get these background checks.

Such a mandate had actually been law already since 1993, although the mandate to keep the background check current wasn’t included. It wasn’t until 1993 law’s holes were as exposed by The Columbus Dispatch in a series called, “The ABCs of Betrayal,” that the 2007 law expansion came into effect.

“The 10-month investigation found, among other things, that educators with histories of fondling students, exposing themselves in public and hiring prostitutes were allowed to keep teaching,” the Dispatch said.

After that investigation, state lawmakers moved fast to button up the law, something they hadn’t done after previous efforts by state education officials to enact the law in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, according to the Dispatch.

Ultimately, the law would cover non-teachers who sought employment with the district in any position as well. However, extending those background checks to volunteers in the school, which are typically parents, is new and is not required by the law.

Additionally, the cost of the background check falls upon the one who needs it. According to the Attorney General’s Office, the BCI background report is $22 and the FBI report is $24, but the agency that completes the background check can set different prices, so the pricing may vary.

Jennifer Thompson, Milford resident, wanted to talk about the Safety Task Force and their safety plan. She has two students at Meadowview Elementary School.

“And I am an active participant as a parent in the school,” she said.

Thompson said the family moved to the area from Oklahoma three years ago.

“As of now, with the new rules, I am no longer allowed to be a volunteer in the school, which has been very hard for me,” she said. “I love being up there and again, I understand there needs to be better safety policies enforced.”

That parents are not involved in the Safety Task Force is unfair, she noted.

Thompson said she was devastated when she learned of these new rules a few weeks before the start of the new school year and said some parents didn’t even know of the changes.

After Thompson’s remarks, Debbie Marques, vice president of the board and a member on the Safety Task Force, corrected Thompson to say that there are parents on that task force and the task force gets their input.

However, in every explanation of what the Safety Task Force is and including in the email sent to Thompson, it doesn’t mention parents as part of the task force.

Mark Thompson, Jennifer Thompson’s husband, said he and other parents just thought it was a knee-jerk reaction.

“I can assure you it was not a knee-jerk reaction; it’s been very well-thought out,” Marques interjected.

“We learned about the changes a few days before school started and then to go to school and drop the kids off for the first day, half the rules weren’t even being followed,” Mark said. “So there’s an issue with consistency.”

In an email later to The Sun, Thompson explained that she had volunteered for the last few years and was able to do so with her younger children.

“I have no issue with the background check except for the price, which is $38 and the fact that it takes 4 weeks, from what I am told,” she said. “While the new background check is understandable to have in place, the board was not able to explain what was acceptable to ‘pass’ the check. In other words, if your background shows a DUI, would the parent or guardian still be able to volunteer?”

The new rules, sent to parents by email, came a week before school started, Thompson said, which wasn’t enough time to get the perspective of other parents, so “all the kinks could be worked out.”

Part of the new classroom volunteers protocol sent out to Thompson said volunteers are not permitted to bring “non-school age children with them (five years-of-age).” Those parameters apply to holiday parties, field day, and similar events, the new policy states.

This rule change impacts Thompson, as she used to bring her younger children to school with her.

George Lucas, board president, said this isn’t something they take lightly when it comes to security and safety of the students.

Andrea Brady, board member, noted that even though board members are employees of the school district, they aren’t required by law to have background checks.

“That does not seem appropriate, given that all of our employees have background checks and now we’re asking our parents to have background checks; it’s not often, if at all that board members are alone with students, but still, it’s definitely something I personally think is appropriate,” she said.

Brady’s background check expires in August, so she’s going to be renewing it, she said. She encouraged her other board members to renew or let the public know they have background checks, too.

As part of the safety program implemented by the Safety Task Force, which is comprised of teachers, administrators, two board members and local law enforcement, fire personnel and parents, the district also made it a policy on July 19 that all classroom doors should be closed and locked at all times except during class changes.

“When classroom doors are closed and locked, our staff and students are already in a fairly secure environment,” the policy stated.

At the end of the board meeting, Marques followed up on the safety concerns, noting she understands that it’s very emotional.

“We’re doing what’s best for the kids, you’ve read the news, you know what’s going on,” she said. “We’re very fortunate that we have an incredible relationship with Miami Township and Milford police departments, fire departments and work really closely with them to develop what they recommend as guidelines.”

Marques said she gets it because volunteering was important to her, too, but it was about what was best for all of the kids and what made them safe.

“That’s why we’ve changed what we’ve changed,” she said. “It’s not the same world it was even 15 years ago when my kids were in school and that’s an awful fact.”

Not necessarily. For the 55 million K-12 students and 3.7 million teachers in the United States, school is still one of the safest places to be in the country and getting safer. In fact, school violence, much like overall U.S. crime, has precipitously declined in the last 25 years.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice annually releases a joint study called the, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety.” According to the latest figures from the 2015-2016 school year, 97 percent of homicides involving school-aged victims occur somewhere other than a school setting.

In practically every measurable way, from violence to bullying to theft to the presence of gangs and so on, progress has been made. For example, in 1992, the rate of victimization (assault, rape, robbery, etc.) was 181.5 incidents per 1,000 students. By 2011, that number had dropped to 49.1 per 1,000.

School fights are also less common. At the high school level, 42 percent of students reported being in a physical fight in 1993, compared to 23 percent in 2015.

As the study noted, any level of violence or victimization in schools is unacceptable, but the declines over the last 25 years are notable, especially at a time when schools are beefing up their security measures from locked door policies to added school resource officers to active shooter drills.

As an example, 79 percent of schools had a procedure in place in the event of an active shooter in the 2003-2004 school year. By 2015-2016, that number was 92 percent. In 2005-2006, 36 percent of schools reported the presence of law enforcement officers. Within 10 years, that number had climbed to 48 percent.

MEVSD added an additional school resource officer for the 2018-2019 school year back in April. Officer Keith Benhase with the Miami Township Police Department will be at the Milford Junior High School.

Before that, the district had Officer Kent Arter at the high school and Miami Township Officer Skip Rasfeld, who also runs the DARE program, at the elementary school.

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