TPSD volunteers must get background checks

TUPELO – Volunteers in the Tupelo Public School District will face increased scrutiny this school year as the district attempts to increase safety for its children.
Background checks will be performed on anyone working with the district’s students. Chaperones on overnight field trips and volunteers in the high school’s mentor program also will have their names checked to make sure they are not listed on the child-abuse registry.
TPSD Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill said the new background checks did not result from any problem the district has had in the past.
“There was no reason other than that we noticed that we were missing this procedure,” Hill said. “We decided to be proactive and put that in.”
The background checks will be handled two different ways, depending on the volunteer’s level of interaction with children – whether they will be with a group of other adults or whether they will have one-on-one access to children.
Chaperones of day field trips and most on-campus volunteers, other than the high school mentors, will need to call the school to fill out paperwork, provide a copy of their driver’s license or state-issued ID and give the school permission to do a background check on them. Those background checks will be done by the Tupelo Police Department.
Volunteers will not be allowed to work with children if they have a guilty plea or a conviction for possession or sale of drugs, murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape, sexual battery, a sex offense as listed in state statute, child abuse, arson, grand larceny, burglary, gratification of lust or aggravated assault. The list of offenses comes from state statute.
Hill said that as the district gets so many background checks to process for future field trips, it can create a backlog. However, he said that no field trips this year have occurred in which chaperones have not been approved.
“If someone comes in, we ask them to just give us time and patience to get it done, but we will get it done,” Hill said.
Meanwhile, chaperones for overnight field trips and participants in the high school’s mentor program will reviewed differently because they have an opportunity for one-on-one access to children, said Jim Turner, director of human resources for the TPSD.
The district will handle the background checks of those individuals. These volunteers must call the district’s human resource office to fill out the proper paperwork and also must submit a copy of their driver’s license or state-issued ID and social security card.
Those volunteers will need to make an appointment to go to the security department at Tupelo High School, and the district also will send their names to the state Department of Human Services to make sure that they are not listed on the state child abuse registry.
Turner’s office has done background checks for district employees in the past. This is the first year it will do those checks for overnight chaperones or mentors.
Rankin Elementary Principal Brenda Johnson said that to her knowledge her school has not lost any chaperones because of the new regulations.
“The parents have accepted it really well,” Johnson said. “It is just another level of security for the children. Usually when you mention safety to parents, they’re receptive.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering but who has not yet filled out the paperwork for this school year should call the appropriate school to find out how to begin the process.
Volunteers should begin the process well in advance of an activity because it takes time to complete.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal