Desiring to promote policies and procedures that ensure the highest level of safety for students and staff, Newton USD 373 has undertaken the act of performing background checks on volunteer workers around the district, starting this school year.

While Superintendent Deb Hamm noted the donation of time and effort from volunteers is much appreciated, she reported to the Newton school board on this new practice at Monday's meeting and noted it was undertaken with the best interests of students in mind.

As the policy is currently enforced, parents or community members helping out around the district are submitted to background checks after three total volunteer trips within any of the Newton schools. The Background Screening Bureau is being used by the district to ensure no one will be discriminated against in the process based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc. — with the district additionally noting they are ruling out background checks based on financial history.

Information the district is interested in regarding the background checks includes criminal and any other negative records (i.e. history of drug use) — with consideration given for any offenses that occur at a young age.

"Really, that's what we want to exclude is any behavior that would be potentially harmful to our staff or students," Hamm said.

Access to background check information will be limited to the Director of Human Services and the director's assistant, which Hamm noted is the same protocol utilized with district staff. Similarly, the district is looking at staff policies to influence procedures regarding volunteers, like the exclusion of financial history and the implementation of follow-up checks after five years.

Board member Barbara Bunting pointed out the history of Newton's St. Mary Catholic School following a similar protocol regarding volunteer workers — upon first instance — as well as the processes in place at Cooper Early Education Center, noting she is extremely supportive of the measures.

"We can make no assurances, but I believe it's one more step to protecting our children," Bunting said.

Questions regarding the costs tied to the process were brought up by board member Tim Hodge, with Hamm noting there will be a charge of $19 per background check. Though there is no way to ascertain what the exact number of checks performed will be this school year, it was noted that 80 checks have already been done through the first month of the school year (due to a high number of field trips among elementary schools).

Checks will not have to be redone on repeat volunteers until the established interval, something Hamm noted is still being worked out along with other best practices to helps assure the safety of all those in Newton schools.