St. Mary's Implements New Screening Process for School Volunteers

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (July 10, 2008)—Those wishing to volunteer for St. Mary’s County Public Schools will now have to go through a more extensive screening process to be approved. Beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, SMCPS will implement new procedures for screening volunteers to ensure an appropriate level of background checks for all community members who provide volunteer hours to its schools.

Under the new procedures, two classifications of volunteers have been established. “Registered volunteers,” who serve on an occasional or routine basis may have unsupervised contact with a student at or away from the school site. This group includes, but its not limited to, chaperones for field trips and overnight school trips, coaches, tutors, mentors, school office and classroom aides, and student teachers. Registered volunteers will be required to complete an application for a formal background screening, the costs for which will be covered by the school system.

The other classification is for “temporary volunteers,” who participate in single events and do not have unsupervised contact with students, to include chaperones for field trips, school dances, and guest speakers. Under the new procedures, temporary volunteers will have to complete a volunteer application to be screened against the National Sex Offender Registry, for which there will be no corresponding costs.

All of this comes in the wake of a rash of arrests that happened in April involving suspected sexual offenses within the school system. One involved 24 year-old Scott Strandberg of Lexington Park, a former drum line coach for Leonardtown High School who was arrested for allegedly having sexual contact with a 16 year-old female student both at his home and on a school bus between September and November of last year. Under the old system, as a paid volunteer, he had not been subjected to the same type of background check as other school system employees or substitute teachers.

Also in April, 54 year-old David Emile Guillemette was arrested and charged with committing sexual abuse toward a 15 year-old female who had visited his home, as well as third-degree sex offense and second-degree assault. Guillemette had worked as a substitute teacher at various St. Mary’s County elementary schools, and had been subjected to a background check, which showed no prior criminal record save for charges related to traffic citations and a peace order that had been filed against him by complainants who failed to appear in court.

School Superintendent Michael Martirano announced his intentions to initiate a tougher screening process for volunteers after these arrests were made, explaining that volunteers would be screened against the National Sex Offender Registry to start with.

Supervisor of Safety and Security, F. Michael Wyant, said that SMCPS is anticipating screening more than 2,000 volunteers in the next year, but potential volunteers will not have to wait long to find out if they are approved.

“We’re expecting a turnaround of 24 to 48 hours but we’re expecting them to anticipate where they’re at as early as possible,” Wyant said, adding that people who had volunteered in previous years would be subject to the same screening procedures as newcomers to the system, and that those interested in participating in the school system’s many volunteer opportunities would need to get their applications in as soon as possible.

The background screening process for registered volunteers includes a state of Maryland criminal background check, social security verification, and residential history. Those who have lived in Maryland for seven years or more may or may not be subjected to an out-of-state check, depending on their individual records.

Many other community groups such as little league and the boy scouts are in the process of implementing similar measures, if none are currently in place. In many cases, these groups have been a step ahead of the school system when screening volunteers.

Michelle Smith, manager of the Lusby center of Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland says that in her three-year tenure with the organization, background checks for all volunteers have been mandatory. “They have an application they have to fill out, and we do a background check with fingerprints,” she explained, adding that all applicants are checked against the state and federal sex offender registry.

The Center for Children in Southern Maryland also has measures in place to screen volunteers, checking applicants against a national child abuse registry in addition to completing a criminal background check.

“We’re going to be issuing photo identification cards throughout the year as well… we’re just looking to enhance our existing procedures and be more thorough with our screening,” said Wyant, who said that with any luck, future incidents may be avoided.


St. Mary's Schools To Implement Checks After Two Staff Charged With Sex Offenses, April 22, 2008

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