Fingerprinting policies create messy equity questions

fingerprint2.jpgA memo sent to principals last month was supposed to clarify the district’s policies on fingerprinting volunteers. It seems to have generated more questions than answers.

The memo calls for principals to make sure any “unsupervised” volunteers are fingerprinted. The notice emphasized that the responsibility for screening volunteers rests squarely on the principals, and suggests that they “err on the side of requiring a volunteer to be fingerprinted.”

Some principals decided to have every volunteer (supervised or not) get the prints, even though that is not the district’s policy, said Renato Almanzor, director of the district’s new Family and Community Office. And, as of now, parent volunteers must be screened every year.

In many cases, parents are expected to shoulder the cost.

Since it can cost upwards of $70 dollars a year to comply, many worry the policy might discourage those with limited financial means from becoming — or staying — involved in the schools.

Almanzor said he shares that concern. He says the district does not subsidize screening costs, but that he is working with schools and parent groups to see “how we can exempt some of the parent volunteers from paying.”

 He also says he’s working with other administrators to change the annual fingerprinting requirement.

Here is the memo from Kirsten Vital, chief of community accountability, to the principals:

As you encourage parents/guardians and other members of the community to share their time, knowledge and abilities with students, I wanted to offer some considerations that will ensure your success and allow the District to maintain its high standards of safety for students, employees and volunteers alike.

Your responsibility for who is on your site includes your recruiting, screening, placing, and supervising volunteers in an equitable process.  We trust that you will ensure that any volunteers who work with students will be immediately and directly supervised by certificated personnel.  These duties may include fieldtrips, lunch and/or breakfast periods or nonteaching support.

You are furthermore responsible for requiring fingerprinting or fingerprint clearance of volunteers whose responsibilities may result in their unsupervised work with students.  We have included a list of sites that can provide fingerprinting services.  If you are in doubt about whether a volunteer may end up being unsupervised around students, we urge you to err on the side of requiring the volunteer to be fingerprinted.  This is in everyone’s best interest.

Finally, please maintain a log of individuals who volunteer in our schools.  The logs should include the person’s name, date of service, and location of their volunteer duties (a specific classroom, office etc…).  The District seeks to better track the broad range of volunteers and volunteering that exists at our sites.  We must improve our tracking the volunteering trends in our schools and highlight these inspirational relationships between family/community and school.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Katy Murphy

    Here’s a letter to concerned parents Almanzor wrote on behalf of Interim State Administrator Vincent Matthews:

    September 25, 2007

    Oakland Parents,

    I’m responding on behalf of Interim State Administrator Vincent Matthews to your inquiries and concerns into our policy for volunteer assistance, specifically related to fingerprinting.

    This is not a new policy; it most recently was amended in 2004. It may feel new by some because we have been highlighting specific considerations for our instructional leaders as they encourage parents/guardians and other members of the community to share their time, knowledge and abilities with student. One of these specific considerations reiterates the responsibility of our principals to recruit, screen, place and supervise volunteers equitably.

    In order to maintain a safe and caring environment for all of our students, principals are expected to exercise discretion in requiring volunteers to be fingerprinted when their responsibilities will reasonably result in them being unsupervised around students. Site administrators are given this amount of discretion because they know better than anyone else, those situations when a volunteer’s responsibility is most likely to result in unsupervised work with students.

    Examples of when it might reasonably be foreseen that a volunteer would be unsupervised with students and therefore should be fingerprinted in advance include:
    • Reading or activities in small groups outside of the presence of the teacher or administrator
    • Escorting kindergarteners to and from the lavatories and supervising the washing of hands while they are in the lavatory
    • One-on-one volunteer counseling with students outside of the teacher’s presence

    The policy does not create a blanket rule that drivers on day field trips must be fingerprinted. As a parent myself, one who has volunteered to chaperone field trips with a bus, I was always supervised by the teacher responsible for the fieldtrip; therefore not require my fingerprinting or fingerprint clearance. In fact, the District’s practice has not been to require drivers on day field trips fingerprint clearance. Drivers on overnight filed trips, however, must be fingerprinted.

    We don’t believe that this policy has, will or should deter all volunteers from giving their time and resources for children. The care of children is a sacred trust and we must treat it as such. If relaxing the rules puts even one student or employee at an increased risk of harm, we cannot do it.


    Renato P. Almanzor, Ph.D.
    Director, Family & Community Office
    Oakland Unified School District

  • turner

    The question that should be asked is why is OUSD’s fingerprinting fee of $70+ much more than those of other districts yet they get their information from the same agency? Some districts have fingerprinting fees as low as $12.

    If there is a mark-up, can’t OUSD waive it for volunteers? Fingerprinting of all staff, including volunteers is necessary, but charging the volunteers the excessive amount is not.

  • Debora

    We all know that the parents who can afford to pay the fee to volunteer can also pay to have a private tutor for their child if they fall behind. What the OUSD is choosing to do by the charging the exorbitant fee is to shut out volunteers for those schools that could most use the one-on-one help for their students. I do not know how OUSD arrived at the fee, but many non-profit organizations use the Oakland Police Department for $14 – $16 per fingerprint card.

    Certainly OUSD can find some organization to underwrite the costs of the fingerprinting if they had a one day volunteer drive for Oakland Public Schools.

    There has to be a better way!

  • Nancy

    The Oakland schools that are thriving have active parent volunteers. Yes, in part this is because those schools have parents with perhaps more control over their time or money, but I don’t think that a policy that puts up barriers to parent participation can be good for any public school. Those that have low volunteer rates will see fewer volunteers, and those who have high rates are likely to see a drop in monetary donations.

    This policy is supposedly not new, but its implementation certainly is. I am a new parent, but the volunteering parents of the first graders at our school have never been fingerprinted. Imposing this policy without a clear understanding of the logistical and financial nightmare that it poses for many if not all parents is misguided.

    My objections are:

    It’s a windfall gain to the fingerprinting companies who refuse to provide information to multiple entities, thus requiring those of us who get printed for work to do it again. I would rather see the $160 it will cost us go to programs.

    It will discourage some parents from volunteering, either because of the cost or the time it takes to go get the fingerprinting done.

    Most of the volunteers do not interact with children alone. If you make it a clear policy that only the paid staff may do so, why do we need to fingerprint the volunteers in other than rare cases?

    No logistics have been laid out for what to do if you get a bad report from the fingerprint scan. Will committee chairs be asked to kick people out of meetings? Do teachers have to say, “sorry you can’t bring the snacks for the Halloween Party?”

    It’s unclear to me whether fingerprinting will uncover drivers with DUI offenses, or restricted or cancelled licenses. Unsafe driving is a real threat that is not being addressed.

    Despite the letter from the OUSD saying that the policy need not be applied to everyone, there are schools where that is being done. I suspect that those schools are the very ones most in need of volunteers.

    A little more thought, a little less reaction. I’ll be goingto the OUSD board meeting tonight, and will bring back any info I get.

  • Redwood Heights Parent

    Redwood Heights is requiring that parents who drive on field trips must pass fingerprint clearance. They also have been told that this is an annual clearance. However, once a teacher has passed fingerprint clearance they can work with our children indefinitely, without another fingerprint clearance in their lifetime (unless they change school districts). Where is the logic of this?

    This is yet another example of a dysfunctional district office developing school policies before they have thought it out from all perspectives.

  • Jenn

    I personally am not opposed to this policy of requiring fingerprints for those volunteers who will be unsupervised (i.e. driving with kids on fieldtrips and so on). I don’t know everyone who will be around my child and there is at least a small chance a volunteer could be a threat to a child.

    However, I strongly REJECT THE ANNUAL REQUIREMENTS. At $70 a pop, I’m looking at nearly $1000 over the life of my child at school. Not to mention that it took me over an hour to have my prints done – basically wasting an evening I had planned with my family. I should NOT be required to do this every year. A requirement of once every FIVE YEARS would be more appropriate.

  • turner

    We should ask Katy to research this further. I have a strong feeling that OUSD is making money from fingerprinting. $70 is the most I have ever heard. I know of several school districts that charge $12 to $30.

    Is this even legal? Are they allowed to make money from fingerprinting?

  • Judy

    They are allowed to charge a rolling fee, which the agency would keep for their services

  • Maria

    I agree with Jenn. As a parent I am not opposed to fingerprinting, HOWEVER this yearly $70 fee is a scam! I paid it and was fingerprinted for this year, but if I have to pay every year (and wait in line all evening to be fingerprinted), I probably won’t do it. This should be a one-time or once-every-five-year requirement.

  • Judy

    The charges for DOJ and FBI fingerprinting is $56.00, so any amount charged over that would stay with OUSD. I wonder why OUSD does not waive this fee for parents if they are really interested in encouraging parent volunteers. They can waive their rolling fee.

  • Kaz Takahashi

    I emailed this to many of the bay area media including Katy on the date below. Though most reporters and editors including SF Chronicle, replied or called me for futher inquiry, Katy never replied. Perhaps, she missed, conveniently.

    On Sep 22, 2007, at 10:36 AM, Kaz Takahashi wrote:

    Hi Katy,

    I am submitting an article on new OUSD policy that requires volunteer field trip drivers to get fingerprinting and FBI criminal background check.
    I hope you can help me share this with our fellow parents and guardians in Oak Town.
    I appreciate your comment and/or suggestions.

    All the best,

    Pay This To Volunteer For School

    The New York Times dropped their paid-membership-base web content, called TimesSelect. They tried to make money from the subscription instead of advertisement, but failed according to a Times editor. Apparently there were not enough Times readers who were willing to pay subscription, $39.95 per a year, or $6.95 a month to read the Times Op-Ed columns and some other web contents. Now it has retuned to free of charge.

    I used to subscribe the expensive paper, hard copies. Not only one, but two. A national paper and a local, but when my paper subscription expense went over $ 500 per a year, I dropped them, and started reading the free internet newspaper as many avid readers do these days. To find alternative media is no longer difficult thanks to googles. Op-Ed star NYT columnists’ columns, apparently, didn’t magnetize the pay-per-read subscribers.

    Here is a lesson we can learn; when things are more than “reasonable” priced, don’t submit, but look for alternatives. $40 per a year may not much for most readers, but knowing that it had been free, and turned out to be paid-membership-base, I felt uneasy. Perhaps so did many fellow web-base readers.

    Her comes the things I really want to talk about, not about NYT but about something happening in Oakland schools with which we can take a similar approach to deal.

    The Oakland Unified School District is requesting parents to comply the new policy of fingerprinting and background check. The process cost volunteers between $66 and $100 according to our PTA president. I google “fingerprinting.” the California State Attorney General Office website shows the agencies that charge a lot of less though they don’t disclose all the hidden fees to get FBI background screening.

    Some fortunate readers might say that the cost is not a issue, because it is about school. Wait a moment. Imagine if a parent makes around $13 per hour for a part-time job, while she / he works as a home maker. Do you think $66 is an affordable price to be eligible to be volunteer for school? Not to mention, if your spouse wants to drive child to a field trip as a pair of cute little eyes beg. Another $66 expense. Just to be eligible to work for school for free.

    What worse is, the procedure has little to do with crime prevention. You don’t have to be a criminologist like myself to how this policy works. The screening may satisfy the homeland security related bonanza seeking industry and insurance companies, but will not improve the security we look for. Our awareness, however, will do the job. It is a common sense. Be watchful a suspicious person and suspicious move around children. Try to talk to strangers around school campus. Just say hi or a little chat will be enough to let people at risk know that we are watchful. Why is it so difficult to sell a common sense these days?

    We don’t have to spend more than $132 for both parents to “volunteer” for school. The money can be much better spent, rather than paying to those homeland security industry. When did you donate $132 to school last time? After all, volunteers are donating their precious time already, which is sheer commodity for families with little children.

    The worst news related to this screening policy is not about the fee or effectiveness, but it is going to a class divider. Schools whose students are from predominantly low income families will have no hope to get volunteers. You might say, “They don’t get school volunteers any way because the participation of parents and guardians has been low already.”, which is true as far as I hear from teachers. The new district policy is going to segregate those schools. We can’t go back to 1950’s.

    Some parents may have felony convictions because of their drug and firearm related charges, not violent or sex crimes. Say, the felons served his / her time in prisons years ago, now have families, and want to come to kids’ field trips. Can we expect them to come up to go through a possibly humiliating screening process with a stiff price tag of $66. I can’t help questioning; is it fair?

    Most parents, especially in hills schools, may see no problems to get fingerprints and background check for themselves. In an addition to time donation, asking $132 to $200 per parents to pay for not-so-effective security measure sounds too much. I am afraid that this new policy may reduce the participation of volunteer in field trips. Probably there will. Soon, some field trips will need to be canceled because lack of volunteer drivers.

    Once a kindergartner came to me while I was sweeping a classroom floor, and said,
    “Are you crazy? You do this, and don’t get paid. It’s not your work.”
    I lectured her what volunteerism meant, proudly and a little embarrassedly back then.
    She might add a sentence to her remark this time.
    “Now, you want to pay that money to do this?”

    Kaz Takahashi is a criminologist, and an Oakland resident.

  • Nother Redwood Heights Parent

    I was told that any contact with children at Redwood Heights, supervised or unsupervised, will require annual fingerprinting. That includes – I’ve been told – bringing sancks to holiday parties, volunteering to help in the classroom, even hanging bullitin boards in the hallway where contact with children is minimal. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not you’ve been fingerprinted with another school or education institution. Finally, I’ve also been told by the office that our PTA is in charge of the fingerprinting and not the office… . So, I’m really glad that someone is taking the initiative to investigate it. Thanks, Katy. I hope you do more.

    I don’t think my fingerprints have changed in the last year — or even in the last five years — or probably even in the last 35 years. Does anyone know the logic behind this “annual” requirement? We all seem to agree that if it must be done, then we shouldn’t be required to add this to our personal expenses every year. But if the reason is data retention, I think it’s a bit ironic.

    As for who’s making money, I have to disagree that it’s OUSD. It seems more likely that it would be somebody’s campaign contribution traded for another private contract.

  • Katy Murphy

    Sorry, Kaz. Don’t think I got your e-mail.

  • Kaz Takahashi

    That’s OK, Katy.

    Regarding “annual” screening process.
    It’s not about your fingerprints, but perhaps about criminal background check.
    Of course, the homeland security bonanza seekers will be happy to redo it for you “just to make sure.”

    We should raise more questions in order to help children critical and independent thinkers as we, parents and teachers, always want them to be. (I must confess that I only sometimes almost regret, when kids raise too many, too often, seemingly unnecessary questions. Oh, well, that’s the cost of our wish.)
    Don’t just submit.

  • turner

    In response to “Nother Redwood Heights Parent”:

    “I don’t think my fingerprints have changed in the last year — or even in the last five years — or probably even in the last 35 years. Does anyone know the logic behind this “annual” requirement?”

    This is simply because things happen in time. A lot can happen in a year. The school district needs to be sure that the people it hires as employees or volunteers are law abiding citizens each time.

    “As for who’s making money, I have to disagree that it’s OUSD. It seems more likely that it would be somebody’s campaign contribution traded for another private contract.”

    The money is paid to OUSD and deposited in their general fund. The district does not issue a check to anyone’s campaign.

  • Jenn

    In response to Turner…. teachers, who spend hours a day with our children, do NOT need annual fingerprint checks. The principal of our elem school said that my child’s teacher may not have been checked in 20 years! Yet volunteers – at their own time and expense – are asked to do this annually? Every 3-5 years would be more appropriate and a good balance between being reasonable and being safe.

    I don’t think OUSD schools are “making money” off this. In addition to the FBI and DOJ costs, there is the “roll fee” that goes to the individual or company who does the rolling. However, I think OUSD could be losing money. Someone might only have $100 to donate to the school. If they had to spend $70 on fingerprinting, they might then donate just $30 to the school. Finally OUSD loses out because some parents may not want to go through the cost and hassle of being printed. So OUSD loses volunteer parents – something they really can’t afford to do!

  • turner

    Teachers and other full time employees don’t get fingerprinted annually. It is volunteers who do. Volunteers are from different backgrounds. The district needs to protect the children. I support annual checks. We cannot compromise our children’s safety. But, for people who want to donate their time and effort, I would ask the district to cover their full fingerprinting expense. The district is nothing without volunteers.

    I know it’s not the schools that are making the money. It is the central office. I know the schools don’t get the money they need, which is unfortunate. And, this is why OUSD has schools starving for money yet the central office has a positive $40 million cash balance.

  • Ray McFadden

    This policy is horribly broken for a very simple reason: There is no clear benefit provided yet there are clear and large costs.

    The costs are:
    * Serious inequity is created if parents have to self-fund this. This policy is blatantly discriminatory against low-income and undocumented families. It would be terrible for our schools if we implemented a policy that only welcomed participation from families with means.
    * It is a privacy violation. Reasonable people may not be willing to “go on file” with the FBI or hand over their social security number, date of birth and fingerprint to somebody without very clear chain-of-custody and an understanding of what that data is being used for. Who has access to this information? I believe the street value of a social security #, address and DOB is now over $100.
    * The discrimination against low-income families will only be mitigated if the district, school, or PTA funds this program. But regardless of where the money comes from, that is money pulled out of the school community and sent to the Federal government. At Crocker Highlands alone, the parents will pay over $10,000 this year for fingerprinting. There are 109 schools in the district – you do the math. So, let’s estimate half that per school – it’s still over $500K *per year*. Can anyone think of a better use for that much money? How about hiring an intern for $10K to spend one month checking all volunteer names against the *FREE* California sex offender database?
    * This policy will absolutely result in people who are unwilling, or less willing to volunteer. Anyone who thinks otherwise is asleep. How do we improve education in Oakland and close the achievement gap? We need more parent engagement, not less.

    The benefits?
    Sadly, nobody in the school administration or in the district has been able to tell us what fingerprinting actually screens for. Nobody can say who we’re looking for and what would cause someone to be rejected as a volunteer. I think that all of us are concerned about sexual predators – but if you look at your parent handbook from the district, they claim that they already have programs in place to ensure that those people are tracked. I believe it is already a crime for them to set foot on a school in any form for any reason.

    If we can’t say how (or if) this actually makes our kids safer but we do know that the cost of this policy is extremely high, it defies logic to implement it.

    I’m glad the district is concerned about safety in our schools. In my opinion, the absolutely worst place to crack down is with parent volunteers. If there are legitimate ways to increase the safety for our children, I think the district or the school administrators should discuss their ideas with the parents so we can weigh the costs against the benefits. This is not good policy to mandate unless state law required it (which is does not.)

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  • cmt

    Ray McFadden,

    Very well stated. This is ludicrous and is another example of the death of common sense. It is