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Schools Asked To Make Volunteering Easier

Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (above) as seen in a microscope

POTTSTOWN PA – Directors have urged Pottsgrove School District administrators to re-examine guidelines for screening and acceptance of volunteers at activities in its five schools, particularly as it concerns tuberculosis (TB) testing requirements.

To ensure children’s safety, state directives imposed in December 2014 demand far more probing into the personal backgrounds of potential volunteers. Many requirements, like obtaining criminal background checks, are obligatory. Others, like TB testing, are “subject to interpretation,” school board member Rick Rabinowitz told his colleagues during its Aug. 11 (2015) meeting, and could be reconsidered.

“The last thing we want to do is discourage participation by our parents and other volunteers” at school functions, Rabinowitz said. The cost of TB testing, however, which he said can run as high as $80, “is really onerous on some of our families.”

“That cost is their biggest problem,” added director John Rossi, who said he’s heard from a few families who decided against volunteering during this academic year as they have in the past.

In complying with state Child Protective Services laws, Pottsgrove requires volunteers to submit a Pennsylvania criminal background check conducted by the state police, a child abuse history clearance from the state Department of Human Services, an arrest and conviction report and certification, and TB test results that are less than one year old.

Just last month (July 25), Gov. Tom Wolf ordered state agencies to waive the fees normally charged for child abuse clearances and criminal background checks. That eliminated potential volunteer expenses by about $20 per person.

There is significant debate in many school districts whether the added cost of TB testing is a requirement of the law, or simply a smart suggestion. Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection that is most often found in the lungs, and can cause fever, weight loss, fatigue, and chronic coughing. The disease is medically treatable, according to The Mayo Clinic.

“I understand the rationale,” Rabinowitz explained. “I’m just concerned about giving parents another hurdle.” Board member Matt Alexander noted some Pottsgrove schools were already “suffering from a volunteer drought” that no one wants to worsen.

Superintendent Shellie Feola said the district’s volunteer requirements were suggested by its solicitor, but she agreed to further discuss the issue with attorneys and the board.

Photo from Google Images

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