Revised background check policy posted for review

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

PELHAM – The Pelham community can now review proposed changes to the Pelham Board of Education’s background check policy.

The revised policy was posted on the Pelham City Schools’ website on Tuesday, Nov. 29, for public review. Superintendent Scott Coefield said the community is encouraged to ask questions and voice concerns about the proposed revisions to the policy.

Coefield said the school board will review the feedback from the community and make changes to the proposed policy, if needed, before voting on it.

The proposed policy states that, if implemented, the policy would not take effect until the 2017-18 school year. The school board would continue with its current policy for the remainder of the 2016-17 year, and would incorporate monthly scheduled lunch dates that will allow visitors to attend school lunches without having to pay $15 for a criminal background check.

Coefiled said the current policy was not suspended while the board composed a revised policy because he and the board did not want to leave the schools unprotected while changes were being made.

Coefield said the revised policy, if approved, would not be implemented until next school year in an effort to be fair to parents who went through the process and paid for a background check this year.

“Any time you change in mid-stream, there’s no way to make everyone happy,” he said.

The proposed policy introduces the use of a visitor management system, the most common of which is called Raptor, that would check each visitor’s name against the National Sex Offender Registry.

When visiting a school, IDs will be scanned or manually entered into the visitor management system and the National Sex Offender Registry will be checked. The system will print out a visitor badge with the visitor’s destination on it and produce a visitor database. Pelham City Schools would cover the costs associated with installing the system in each school.

Exemptions would include widely attended school events where large groups are entering a school at one time and it may not be feasible to use the management system.

The proposed policy lays out guidelines for lunchtime visitors, such as notifying the school by 9 a.m. whenever they plan to visit for lunch and setting a limit of two visitors per child.

Principals would have the authority to cancel any or all lunch visits based on any issues they feel could impact their ability to provide the proper learning environment.

Background checks would still be required for anyone who volunteers at a school, chaperones or assists in any other activity that requires the supervision of students. Parents would be responsible for covering the cost of the background check.

School board president Rick Rhoades said the goal of the policy has always been to ensure the safety of Pelham students.

“The safety factor was very heavy on our hearts,” he said. “We want to make our schools as safe as we can possibly make them and make the environment the best that it can possibly be.”

Rhoades said the school board has tried to get as many different views on the policy as possible – seeking advice from the Pelham Police Department, school administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders.

“We want our schools to be friendly and we never want anyone to feel excluded,” Rhoades added.

Board member Sharon Samuel said she did take away something positive from the controversy.

“The positive thing to take from it is that we all have an extreme passion for the students in our community,” she said. “I want to ask people to use that passion for something positive that will help our kids grow.”

The proposed policy in its entirety can be found at pelhamcityschools.org. Questions or feedback regarding the proposed policy can be emailed to PCSfeedback@pelhamcityschools.org.