The Warren County School District is one step closer to defining the word 'volunteer.'
And the definition isn't coming easily.
A first reading draft of an updated policy was presented, and summarily approved, by the district's board of directors Monday night.
"A volunteer is defined as one who voluntarily offers and provides a service to the School District without receiving compensation," the policy stipulates.
Volunteers are then broken down into two categories. Category I is those "who will be alone with students with no direct supervision by District staff for extended periods of time." That covers unpaid athletic coaches and overnight chaperones, among others.
Category II covers individuals, both those in "long-term continuous service" and "short-term sporadic events," who are "rarely alone with students" or "under the direct supervision of District personnel." The long-term clause covers those who serve as room parents or classroom helpers while the short-term language addresses dance chaperones and volunteers for one-day field trips, among a host of others.
Both categories require a completed volunteer application form. Further, Category I volunteers will be required to have a tuberculosis test, child abuse and Pennsylvania criminal background clearances and "any and all other requirements prescribed by the law."
The child abuse and state criminal clearances each cost $10, and the cost of the clearances falls to the volunteer.
In contrast, Category II volunteers will only be required to have the tuberculosis test and the application form.
"Parents and legal guardians of students shall be exempt from the foregoing requirements," the policy states. However, the TB test would still be required.
The TB test is required per Pennsylvania school code.
Board member John Grant expressed the importance of adding language to the policy that would allow the district to require clearances of Category II volunteers, and parents/guardians, "and not give a blanked exemption" in the event there are concerns about a potential volunteer.
A process for approval of volunteers is also outlined.
"All volunteers shall be approved by the Board upon the recommendation of the appropriate administrator or building principal, who shall be responsible for supervising all volunteers serving at his or her office or building," according to the policy. The policy also grants the superintendent emergency authority to approve volunteers should a specific urgent need arise.
Grant said, "I would prefer to have this board (know) who has contact with our kids. (I) would not want to leave the superintendent hung out to dry. I think we should be approving them."
"I think that would put a real hardship on some of our volunteers to get last-minute approval to come in and help," board member Tom Knapp said. "Trying to get volunteers, sometimes it's last minute and you wouldn't have time to (secure board approval)."
State regulation does not offer clear direction in this area.
"State law only requires background check reports for volunteers in charter schools," a summary on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website said. "State law does not require background checks for volunteers in other public and private schools. However, individual school entities are permitted to adopt policies that go beyond the scope of the law."
Current district policy states, "Volunteers may come from all backgrounds and all age groups and may include any persons willing to give their time...Volunteers may be involved in virtually every facet of the operation of the school district, working with students on a one-on-one basis or performing tasks not involving students."
While district policy will not allow volunteers to transport students, "Duties may involve services to libraries, classrooms, athletic events, music programs, school plays, or pre-kindergarten programs or assisting on field trips and similar activities," the policy states.