Beaufort County schools going to new screening process for volunteers, employees

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMarch 12, 2014 

STAFF ILLUSTRATION

The Beaufort County School District will soon screen volunteers more thoroughly, after several recent incidents in which volunteers faced legal problems, officials said.

Within the month, the school district plans to hire an outside company to conduct background checks of individuals who want to volunteer in the district. Applications for the work are being accepted and will be narrowed down soon, superintendent Jeff Moss said.

Not all school volunteers will need to be screened, said head of human resources Alice Walton. The district is determining the kind of volunteers who will require screening.

"The bottom line: What we want is a more secure process to bring volunteers into the district," Walton said.

The new screening process will not be for volunteers alone. The company and system also will be used to conduct background checks on prospective employees, Moss said.

Beaufort County schools currently use internal software, called WinOcular, for checks on volunteers. The district also runs background checks through the S.C. Law Enforcement Division for employees.

However, Walton said the district wants a more thorough process. The cost of enhanced screening has not been determined, she said.

Under the new system, background checks will be nationwide in scope, include searches of various sex-offender registries and incorporate an address history and name aliases.

None of that information is collected now. SLED checks, for example, only show arrests that occurred in South Carolina, and only then if local police departments and sheriff's offices pass arrest information along to SLED.

Once a screening company is selected, all current and new volunteers will undergo background checks. The district has not decided whether it will screen current employees under the new system or just incoming ones, Walton said.

Volunteers who could be unsupervised while with children are likely to be screened, district spokesman Jim Foster said. Those who come in to help as test proctors or to give a presentation to students, for example, probably will not be checked.

The district has about 2,700 to 3,000 volunteers, Foster said. He estimated that most of those serve in more than one capacity and would need to be checked, but exact numbers weren't available Wednesday.

The cost of enhanced screening is still unknown, Walton said. She doesn't expect the cost to exceed what Beaufort County schools pay now, she said.

Reviews through SLED cost $25. From July 2012 to June 2013, the district spent $21,810 conducting background checks, according to Foster.

Existing checking procedures and software did not detect the felony arrest record of Bluffton High School girls basketball assistant Alexandra Murphy, who allegedly fought with one of her players in February.

One other volunteer and several employees also have faced charges in recent months for inappropriate conduct with teenagers. However, none of those individuals had prior records in South Carolina.

Walton said the district hopes the new screening process will ensure the right people are in the classroom, whether as employees or volunteers.

"We are trying to put ourselves in a position that when unfortunate things happen, we want to feel and know that we have done everything we could have done to catch these red flags," Walton said.

"I can't say it would have stopped anything that has occurred recently," she added. "But we want to be able to say that there was nothing else we could have done."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Document: The request for proposals

Beaufort County School District Volunteer Screening RFP

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