Tupelo expands school volunteer background checks

By CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo Public School District will expand its list of who must pass FBI background checks before serving as volunteers.
Anyone who will be working in a position in which they could possibly be left alone with a student will have to complete the comprehensive background check.
Last school year, the comprehensive checks were required only for those who were taking overnight trips with students or for volunteers in Tupelo High School’s mentor program.
This school year, the list will grow to include chaperones on day field trips, those who read to children in small groups and anyone else who could have one-on-one access to children.
Those volunteers had previously used a locally funded, less extensive background check.
Tupelo Schools Deputy Superintendent Diana Ezell said the police department recommended the more strenuous checks.
“The local check only covered Lee County and didn’t check any of the other registries outside of the county,” she said. “It is a higher standard, and it is a standard we expect of our employees as well.”
Not everyone will be required to take the FBI background checks. Exempt are volunteers who will be in the classroom only with teachers, such as those who bring snacks to a class, or those building sets for a drama production and not working with students.
Volunteers must pay $35 for the FBI background checks, although the district is trying to get a grant to cover that cost. They must also get fingerprinted and sign a form authorizing the check, which will be done by a company in Jackson.
“I realize the $35 is a lot, but it is a small price to pay for the safety of the children,” Ezell said. “Anything we can do to protect them from predators is our duty and is something we want to do. We wouldn’t have chosen this field if we didn’t care about their safety and well-being.
“Unfortunately, predators of children are looking for opportunities to be around children, so we have to be careful.”
The FBI background check procedure is the same one the district uses for all of its employees.
The background check will be good for only one year, although Ezell said anyone who passed one of the extensive background checks last year will be grandfathered in for this year.
She said the district also would accept it if volunteers have passed the background check required by Tupelo Parks and Recreation for coaching youth teams or if they work at a company that requires an FBI background check.
Volunteers will be ineligible to serve if background checks disclose a guilty plea or conviction to any of the following felonies: possession or sale of drugs, murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape, sexual battery, sex offense as listed in state statue, child abuse, arson, grand larceny, burglary, gratification of lust or aggravated assault.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.