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Bainbridge school district updates volunteer policy

The Bainbridge Island School District’s new volunteer policy will include trainings three times a year, background checks and a more comprehensive handbook, school officials said last week.

Assistant Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen informed the school board  that district-wide trainings and a new handbook will detail acceptable and unacceptable behavior for volunteers.

“What we’re really trying to do is to strive to balance the need to promote volunteerism — we’ve talked on and on about how important that is — with our need to foster student safety,” Bang-Knudsen said.

At last week’s school board meeting, Bang-Knudsen explained that since the board voted to update the volunteer policy, district staff has consulted extensively with the district insurance company about best practices around volunteer policy and procedure. They have reviewed reports and community feedback from fall 2013, other district policies in Washington, and recommended policy and procedures by the Washington State School Directors’s Association.

Additionally, they have spoken with volunteer coordinators in other districts and with a committee made up of Bainbridge Island staff and PTO members.

The drafted policy Bang-Knudsen presented to the school board outlines responsibilities for district staff, school campus staff and volunteers.

If the draft passes as-is, district staff will be required to develop and distribute a new volunteer handbook in hardcopy and on the district website. They will be responsible for training school staff on how to interface with volunteers.

Additionally, they will facilitate background checks, maintain an updated volunteer list for all schools to access and develop district-wide training materials.

School staff will be responsible for implementing the new materials. Prior to enlisting a volunteer, staff must make sure the volunteer completes the background check and training. They will provide written job descriptions that cover what volunteers shall and shall not do in their assigned task. They will also be responsible for monitoring volunteers to make sure they are tending to their assigned tasks and complying with building and district policies.

Likewise, they will require volunteers to sign in and wear identification.

After completing a training and background check, approved volunteers will be placed on a list that principals and school officials can access.

The list will expire after two years, and current volunteers must undergo the process for approval again.

Training materials, officials said, would be made available in two different formats.

In addition to providing a training for volunteers at a school, the district intends to develop an online PowerPoint. If the volunteer cannot attend a training or if they apply in between scheduled trainings, they can access the online version. By providing a form where volunteers will be required to answer critical questions that exemplify they viewed the online PowerPoint, the district can hold accountability.

The volunteer training and handbook will outline what volunteers can and cannot do. These will cover several themes common with other school district policies, such as “respect the confidentiality of students and staff” or “do not discriminate or harass.”

Extra emphasis was given to student privacy when drafting the volunteer policy, Bang-Knudsen told the school board.

When working directly with students or when coming in contact with student records, all volunteers must maintain strict confidentiality regarding the release of information.

“It’s in the policy, in the procedure and the handbook,” he said. “That’s something that we have intentional redundancy throughout all three documents.”

On the last page of the volunteer handbook, applicants will be required to sign that they agree and commit to the volunteer policy. On a separate line, they will also be required to sign that they agree and commit to protecting the privacy of all students.

Bang-Knudsen explained that the district will additionally notify each volunteer through training and the handbook that volunteering is a privilege, and that the district has the right to limit volunteer participation when necessary.

It may also discontinue a volunteer’s service for any reasons, or no reason.

“It’s putting in place some additional explicit language that we just didn’t have before,” Bang-Knudsen said.

“The folks that we talked to — Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah — every other school district has this kind of thing in pace and they have thousands of volunteers,” he said.

 

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