A new state law went into effect Wednesday requiring school districts to conduct criminal background checks on all volunteers who may be left alone with students.
Missouri state Auditor Nicole Galloway pushed for this new law following her 2018 audit of the state's sex offender program, which found criminal background checks were not required for school district volunteers. However, background checks have always been required for all school district employees.
"I'm very pleased that legislators made this change quickly, not only as the auditor who found the problem but also as a parent who wants my children — and all children — to be safe when they're at school," Galloway said.
Fulton Public Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd announced at the Aug. 21 board of education meeting the district has revised its volunteer policy. FPS now requires different background checks for two categories of volunteers. Regular volunteers will now be required to have a family services background check, and "extreme volunteers" will be required to have fingerprint background checks.
"Volunteers are those people who walk into the building to assist with class parties, help us monitor field trips and help with field day. These volunteers must be within eye-shot of a district employee," Cowherd said. "An extreme volunteer is someone who is not supervised by a district employee, such as a tutor or someone who would work one-on-one with a student."
Cowherd said volunteers will be responsible for paying the fees that go with these background checks. Volunteer school coaches are an exception and will be reimbursed once they go through the process. Additionally, Cowherd raised concerns for low-income families who serve as volunteers and may not be able to afford the fees.
"These individuals do a nice job for us, and we don't want to hurt anybody so that might be a bit of an issue we'll face," Cowherd said.
FPS is not the only local school district to revise its procedures around this new law. New Bloomfield R-3 had already divided volunteers into these two categories, Superintendent Sarah Wisdom said.
"The safety of our children is of the utmost importance, and we love community volunteers so we wanted to ensure we had the best of both worlds," Wisdom said.
According to the North Callaway School District, per school board policy, all volunteers already had to have a satisfactory criminal background and no child abuse/neglect records, which are checked annually.
"School safety isn't a partisan issue, and this is an important step forward to protect our kids," Galloway said.