Under a new state law in Pennsylvania, school volunteers who have contact with students now must submit to a criminal background check and child-abuse clearances. The new law, which went into effect in December, also requires that school employees and contractors update their clearances every three years.
The law applies to both public and private schools and also requires teachers, staff members, administrators and contractors to obtain background checks from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and the State Police. Criminal penalties are in effect for teachers and other “mandated reporters” who fail to report cases of suspected child abuse.
Spurred by Sandusky case
The new law follows recommendations from a state legislative task force established in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case, according to the Ambler Gazette. Sandusky, a former assistant coach for Penn State, in 2012 was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys and currently is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years in prison.
Under the new regulations, individuals who have lived in the state for at least a decade will not be required to gain FBI clearance, though they will need to comply with other requirements. School volunteers will pick up the tab for their own background searches, including $10 for a criminal background search by state police, $30 for the FBI background search and fingerprinting, and $10 for a child-abuse history.
Changes to existing law
The new law expands the list of people who qualify as mandated reporters and expands the definition of child abuse. It amends an existing policy requiring reporting of child abuse by adding school volunteers and independent contractors working around students.
Current school staff members who previously underwent criminal background searches won’t have to do so again for three years from the most recent check. Workers who were employed prior to passage of previous laws will no longer be grandfathered and will be required to submit to background searches under the new law. Although the new rules don’t apply to school board members, some are choosing to have background searches done.
Some school advocates worry that the new requirements may discourage school volunteers. However, proponents of the new law say it’s a small price to pay to ensure that students are kept safe from potential predators.
Disclaimer Statement: All information presented is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide professional or legal advice regarding actions to take in any situation.