When Sandy Dettenmayer applied to volunteer for the Beaufort County School District, she didn't know what to expect from a new screening process.
Dettenmayer, who volunteered in the schools last year, said she was unsure if it would be more complicated or invasive than the previous system.
While pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't, the mother of a Bluffton High School student said she would not have been deterred if that were the case.
"The more thorough the better," Dettenmayer said. "The only way you are going to make sure a volunteer is the best person for the position and safe to be around students is to go through the process of background checks and answering the questions that are required."
More than a month after the district implemented its tougher volunteer screening -- and just days before the new school year begins -- officials say it is proving successful.
About 450 prospective volunteers had applied through the system as of last week, according to community services coordinator Megan Meyer. It was adopted after several incidents last school year in which volunteers, some with questionable backgrounds, faced legal trouble.
The district did some background checks before, but its new system is much more thorough, risk manager Jennifer Staton said, noting two applicants were automatically declined because of their background checks. She would not provide specifics about why they were rejected.
Another 10 or so applicants had minor infractions and were flagged for further review, Staton said. For example, one of the flagged applicants had more than a handful of offenses that by themselves were minor, she said, but suggested a larger pattern of rule-breaking.
In situations like that, several district and school officials from the school at which they want to volunteer -- not a set committee -- will meet with the applicants and decide whether they can volunteer.
Staton said she's confident this new system is catching things that might have slipped through the old one.
"We do have a much better comfort level with things being run through this new system and the different databases it is looking at," she said.
The updated process likely will cost about $40,000 annually; the old system cost about $20,000, Staton said.
The new process, conducted by the Background Investigation Bureau, is more comprehensive than the previous checks through the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. The SLED checks covered mostly offenses committed in South Carolina -- and only those voluntarily reported to the statewide agency by local law enforcement. The private Background Investigation Bureau conducts nationwide checks that incorporate an address history and name aliases.
The district now requires all volunteers, including those approved under the old system, to apply and be checked each year, Meyer said. The district expects to have between 1,500 and 2,000 volunteers each year, she added.
Because the previous system was not updated annually, Meyer could not say whether the 450 applicants the district has received so far are more or fewer than at this point in previous school years. She hopes the district's more rigorous procedures are not hurting their efforts to bring in volunteers, she said, but school officials want to feel assured that those they approve belong in schools.
"Because safety is the utmost important thing, we have to have this level of security in the schools," Meyer said. "We hope that no one feels slighted in any way or that it deters them from volunteering, but instead, that they understand why we have to have this level of security."
She said most of the feedback she and the volunteer coordinators have received has been positive, touting not only the system's ease of use but additional safeguards.
Staton said she was almost surprised by the lack of negative feedback, but thinks this is an easier transition for volunteers than when the district first implemented screening several years ago.
As school begins Aug. 18, Dettenmayer said she expects more parents and community members to be made aware of the new process and apply to volunteer.
"I hope more people continue to get involved," she said. "The system is not complicated to use, and I think volunteers play a very valuable role in the schools and with the students."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Beaufort County School District volunteer handbook
- Beaufort County schools start tougher volunteer screening, June 30, 2014
- Beaufort County schools going to new screening process for volunteers, employees, March 12, 2014
- School district continues to examine volunteer-screening process, February 18, 2014
- Former Beaufort County volunteer school drum teacher charged in federal court, March 11, 2014
- Report: Bluffton High assistant coach fought player, February 7, 2014