Groton to check school volunteers' backgrounds

Groton - Groton Public Schools will require criminal background checks of people who volunteer regularly in the public schools, under a new regulation outlined this week.

Superintendent Michael Graner briefed the school board's policy committee Monday on the regulation, which would apply to those expected to volunteer 50 hours or more. It would also require a check by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.

The regulation doesn't need Board of Education approval, Graner said.

"This policy says if we have people coming to our schools on a regular basis we'd like to be sure that they have, at least at minimum, a background check," he said.

Other districts have a mix of practices. Montville, for example, requires all volunteers to be fingerprinted. Norwich does not but is considering it, and does not allow volunteers to be alone with children. East Lyme requires background checks of all volunteers who will be alone with students.

In Groton, the rule is intended to apply to people who volunteer at the schools regularly, or one to two hours per week, Graner said.

"Clearly I don't think we want to subject someone to fingerprinting if they're going to come read a story to a class," he said.

All volunteers or chaperones would be required to register in the school's main office, wear a name tag while in the building and sign a form providing information including their name, address, employer, schools they've volunteered at and whether they have ever been convicted of a felony.

The regulation would also place restrictions on who is allowed to supervise children on field trips to public school staff and volunteers with current background checks.

Groton is also working on a new safety and security plan for each school, as required by state law.

School Facilities Director William Robarge said the law, passed earlier this year, requires every school to set up a safety and security committee that includes a local law enforcement officer, a "first responder" such as a firefighter, teacher, administrator, mental health professional, social worker, school nurse, parent or guardian.

Groton has 10 public schools, so the district must create 10 committees to comply.

Graner said he plans to expand Groton's School District Climate Committee, created to deal with bullying and to serve as a districtwide safety and security committee. Members of the district committee could then serve on multiple individual school committees.

Each school committee would create a safety plan and the district would file a report with the state.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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