Private Schools And Volunteers

JANUARY 18, 2013 
Private schools utilize volunteers in a number of roles from classroom assistants to driving groups of students to extracurricular activities.  What steps does a school need to undertake when utilizing volunteers for on campus school activities and off campus school sponsored activities?  A checklist of some of the items to be reviewed:
(1)  Volunteer Application:  A signed application providing relevant history with standard questions as an employee application regarding prior criminal acts or drug or alcohol arrests.
(2)  Background Check:  Schools should conduct background checks as standard protocol for all volunteers.  If a volunteer is to have any unsupervised contact with minor students, then the background checks should include fingerprinting with a background check.
(3)  Volunteer Agreement:  A signed agreement with the school whereby the volunteer accepts the terms of volunteer work such as adherence to school policies and procedures, conduct standards and a release of liability.
(4)  Complaint and Investigation Procedure:  A written procedure where students or parents can express any concerns relating to activities or conduct by a volunteer. Any complaints or concerns must be immediately and fully investigated by the school.
(5)  Monitoring Program.  A school designated employee who has responsibility for monitoring volunteers and compliance with the schools volunteer procedures and policies.
Summary:  More courts are looking at volunteers the same as an employee of the school because volunteers are assuming functions that employees would also typically fulfill.  Because the school is in loco parentis (in place of the parent) while under the school’s supervision, there is a heightened duty of care to protect the student from harm caused by an employee or a person placed in authority over a student as a volunteer.  As such, schools need to exercise vigilance and insure that a system is in place, and followed, for selection and oversight of volunteers. 
– David T. Stowell