The Ottumwa Courier

March 20, 2014

Volunteer policy unclear

Editorial by the Daily Iowegian
The Daily Iowegian

---- — Editorial by the Daily Iowegian

Parents can sometimes be at odds with school districts over policies and practices that affect their children. But what about when a policy affects parents?

Recently some controversy has erupted in the Centerville School District when a parent was denied the opportunity to chaperone an overnight, out of state jazz band trip in her contention, due to a simple misdemeanor from more then a decade ago. The Daily Iowegian reports on the story on Page 1 of today’s edition.

This has lead some parents and community members to express concern that the current policy governing volunteers within the district is not transparent or fair.

The policy, 904.2, entitled School District Volunteers, states the following:

“The board supports and encourages community involvement in the educational program and recognizes the valuable resource the community provides to the district. Whenever possible and as an enhancement to the educational program, community citizens will be asked to make presentations to the students and/or assist school district personnel in duties other than teaching.”

“The school district may officially recognize the contributions made by volunteers each year. Recruitment, training and utilization of school volunteers is the responsibility of the administrative team. Guidelines for volunteers will be provided by the administration team.”

That is the entirety of the policy within the Centerville School District. It allows the administration and superintendent ultimate control of which potential volunteers are brought to the school board for approval. The school board themselves approved of this system and were comfortable leaving the decision of who is brought to them for approval to the administration and the superintendent. However, we feel that the policy has now opened the district up to accusations about being too discriminatory in their decision making.

Each volunteer is required to submit to a background check, which we support because it helps ensure the safety of students within the district. However we feel not laying out more specifics about which volunteers can be prohibited from being involved in which activities, leaves the district open to accusations of discrimination or favoritism.

It also leads to confusion on the part of potential volunteers who may feel discouraged from even attempting to become involved within the district, which in not the intention of the board or the administration. The district values and encourages parent and community involvement to help strengthen the district and the educational experience of Centerville students.

Although the administration and superintendent need to make decisions based on what they believe is in the best interest of students, we feel that the School Board should become more involved in the process of approving volunteers.

If there is a potential volunteer that reasonable people could disagree on in regards to their fitness to volunteer in a given situation, we feel it would be better for the board to make that decision in an open public meeting, which should help to eliminate any accusations against the district in regards to discrimination.

Beyond that, we hope the board will revisit the volunteer policy and include more guidelines, not necessarily for the administration, but for the public. Transparency, fairness and quality service should be the ultimate goal of any public institution.

If more specific volunteer guidelines are available to the public at large, hopefully less resentment will be present between the district’s school board and administration and the public and parents.