Background Checks for School Volunteers
Criminal Defense Update: Rhode Island now requires Background Checks for those who will volunteer at School Systems
The governor has signed legislation, to require any individuals who are current or prospective volunteers of a school department and who may have direct or unmonitored contact with children or students on school premises to undergo a state criminal background check.
The Senate and House of Representatives gave final passage last week to companion bills – 2013-S 0347 by Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) and 2013-H 5229 by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston). The bills will take immediate effect.
The Parts of the Bill that could affect new volunteers, by disqualifying them:
16-2-18.1. Criminal records review. -- (a) Any person seeking employment with a private school or public school department who has not previously been employed by a private school or public school department in Rhode Island during the past twelve (12) months shall undergo a national and state criminal background check to be initiated prior to or within one week of
employment after receiving a conditional offer of employment; The applicant shall apply to the bureau of criminal identification (BCI), department of attorney general, state police or local police department where they reside, for a national and state criminal records check. Fingerprinting shall be required. Upon the discovery of any disqualifying information, the bureau of criminal identification, state police or local police department will inform the applicant in writing of the nature of the disqualifying information; and, without disclosing the nature of the disqualifying information will notify the employer in writing that disqualifying information has been discovered.
(c) An employee against whom disqualifying information has been found may request
that a copy of the criminal background report be sent to the employer who shall make a judgment
regarding the employment of the employee.
The disqualifying information referenced above includes means those offenses listed
in section 23-17-37, and those offenses listed in sections 11-37-8.1 and 11-37-8.3.
These offenses are:
§ 23-17-37 Disqualifying information. – (a) Information produced by a criminal records review pertaining to conviction, for the following crimes will result in a letter to the employee and employer disqualifying the applicant from employment: murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, first degree sexual assault, second degree sexual assault, third degree sexual assault, assault on persons sixty (60) years of age or older, assault with intent to commit specified felonies (murder, robbery, rape, burglary, or the abominable and detestable crime against nature) felony assault, patient abuse, neglect or mistreatment of patients, burglary, first degree arson, robbery, felony drug offenses, larceny, or felony banking law violations. An employee against whom disqualifying information has been found may request that a copy of the criminal background report be sent to the employer who shall make a judgment regarding the continued employment of the employee.
(b) For purposes of this section, "conviction" means, in addition to judgments of conviction entered by a court subsequent to a finding of guilty or a plea of guilty, those instances where the defendant has entered a plea of nolo contendere and has received a sentence of probation and those instances where a defendant has entered into a deferred sentence agreement with the attorney general.
With specific references to sections:
§ 11-37-8.1 First degree child molestation sexual assault. – A person is guilty of first degree child molestation sexual assault if he or she engages in sexual penetration with a person fourteen (14) years of age or under.
§ 11-37-8.3 Second degree child molestation sexual assault. – A person is guilty of a second degree child molestation sexual assault if he or she engages in sexual contact with another person fourteen (14) years of age or under.
Rhode Island is not the first state to implement a law such as this:
In New Mexico, under a policy adopted last year, parents who want to mentor in the schools must produce character references and go through a criminal background check, fingerprinting and training.
In North Carolina, parents or other volunteers who accompany field trips, tutor or serve as reading buddies or assistant athletic coaches, and may be alone with a child, must go through a personal interview, a training session and a criminal background check. They must also provide three personal references. Those who mentor children or chaperon overnight trips must be fingerprinted, and those who drive children around must have their driving history, insurance and license checked.
This legislation is aimed at improving the safety of school children, said the sponsors, by expanding the scope of the background check requirement to include volunteers who will have direct and regular contact with young people.
“As programs that rely on or use volunteers grow in school settings, adding this language to law is the safe and responsible thing to do. We don’t want to stand in the way of volunteerism in schools, but we want to put student safety first,” said Representative McNamara.
As a criminal defense lawyer we need to be cognizant of the repercussions of this law on volunteers who may have criminal records from many years prior. Although the Senate is doing a fantastic job in keeping our children safe, many members of our society will now have to explain away their past in order to be a contributing member in their town’s school. All Rhode Island residents should be aware of this new law and the implications it could have when accepting negotiated plea deals with Attorney General’s office, the same way clients encountering immigration issues need to keep their eyes open.