BACKGROUND CHECKS, FAQS CONCERNING ACT 15 OF
What school volunteers are required to have background checks?
Under Act 15 of 2015 (the Act), which amends the provisions of the Child Protective Services Law, volunteers who are responsible for the child’s welfare or who have “direct volunteer contact” with children at a school— meaning the care, supervision, guidance, or control of children and routine interaction with children will be required to have background checks. The Act clarifies that “routine interaction” means “regular and repeated contact that is integral to a person’s employment or volunteer responsibilities.”
PDE’s view is that mere visitors are not normally required to obtain background checks to the extent that such visitors are not responsible for a child’s welfare or are visiting the school irregularly and not providing for the care, supervision, guidance, or control of children. Some examples of situations where such visitors normally would not be required to have background checks would include but are not limited to: Back-to -School nights, parent/teacher conferences, school assemblies, school concerts, assisting with school birthday parties, parent guest readers, chaperones for field trips and dances (so long as not routine or responsible for the child’s welfare), Halloween parades, collecting tickets to sporting events, working concession stands, participating in “Career Day,”Etc. In this capacity, school visitors do not need the clearances. By contrast, persons who are responsible for the child’s welfare or who wish to visit the school regularly to serve as volunteers and to provide for the care, supervision, guidance or control of children would be required to have background checks. Some examples of persons needing background checks would include but not be limited to regular classroom volunteer assistants, recess and library volunteers, and volunteer coaches/club advisors.
Which background checks are needed?
Volunteers must obtain the following certifications:
- Report of criminal history from the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP); and
- Child Abuse History certification from the Department of Human Services (Child Abuse).
A fingerprint based federal criminal history (Federal Bureau of Investigation) submitted through the Pennsylvania State Police or its authorized agent is NOT required as long as:
The position the volunteer is applying for is an unpaid position; AND
The volunteer has been a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the entirety of the previous10 years.
Volunteers who are not required to obtain the FBI certification because they are applying for an unpaid position and have been a continuous resident of Pennsylvania for the past 10 years must swear or affirm in writing that they are not disqualified from service based upon a conviction of an offense under §6344.
DHS Form for Volunteers
If a volunteer has not been a resident of Pennsylvania for the previous 10 years but obtained their FBI certification at any time since establishing residency, they must provide a copy of the certification to the person responsible for the selection of volunteers and they are not required to obtain any additional FBI certifications.
If a volunteer has not been a resident of Pennsylvania for the previous 10 years, and has not obtained their FBI certification, they must obtain that certification.
Can a child abuse history certification or PSP criminal history obtained for volunteer activities be used for other volunteer activities?
Yes, any person who obtained their certifications within the previous 60 months may serve in a volunteer capacity for any program, activity, or service.
Can a child abuse history certification or PSP criminal history certification obtained for volunteer activities be used for employment purposes?
No. Child abuse history certifications and PSP criminal history certifications obtained for volunteer purposes can only be used for other volunteer activities. Child abuse history certifications obtained for volunteer purposes will indicate that the certification is to be used for volunteer purposes only.
Can FBI Criminal History certifications obtained through the Department of Human Services be accepted by schools for volunteer purposes?
Yes. The Department of Human Services reviews the results of the FBI fingerprint record check and sends the applicant a letter that indicates the result of the review and whether or not the applicant is eligible for a position that involves direct contact with children. The report will be on DHS letterhead and will be from the Office of Children, Youth and Families.
The DHS notification will also include a copy of the applicant’s criminal history information except when no record exists.
DHS letters that indicate that there was no record can be accepted.
If an applicant presents a DHS letter that indicates any of the other situations, school staff should review the criminal history information to make a fitness determination as to whether the person should be in a volunteer position that involves direct volunteer contact with children.
Can a school print out an FBI criminal history record to give to an applicant if an applicant requests a copy?
Yes. The FBI has stated that it has no objection to officials providing a copy of the applicant’s FBI criminal history record to the applicant. PDE recommends that the school indicate on the report that it is a copy provided by the school to the applicant.
What are the background check responsibilities concerning adults who have direct contact with children as part of an internship, externship, work-study, co-op, or similar programs?
If the program, activity or service is an internship, externship, work-study, co-op or similar program, only an adult applying for or holding a paid position with an employer that participates in the internship, externship, work-study, co-op or similar program with a school and whom the employer and the school identify as the child's supervisor and the person responsible for the child's welfare while the child participates in the program with the employer is required to obtain the certifications, not all employees. The adult identified as the person responsible for the child's welfare is required to be in the immediate vicinity at regular intervals with the child during the program. School districts often enter into written understandings with those entities hosting internships, externships, work study, co-ops or similar programs. In addition to identifying the supervisor the understanding may establish the terms of the supervision of the students in the program.
How is “immediate vicinity” defined?
“Immediate vicinity” is defined as an area in which an individual is physically present with a child and can see, hear, direct, and assess the activities of the child.
How is “regular intervals” defined?
PDE recommends that supervisors interpret “regular intervals” with the safety of children as the paramount consideration and suggests that “regular intervals” should mean at least once daily and not less than every four hours.
Do Home School co-operatives need background checks?
A co-op that is operated by a home school organization will need background clearances of instructors. Informal co-ops organized by a group of parents will not require background checks for the instructors.
The instruction/assistance to home school students being provided by or through an organized home school association is considered a program offered by a private organization that is providing an enrichment or educational program and under the CPSL the individuals who will be having direct contact with home school students will need clearances.
Since home schooling programs are not sponsored by the school districts, it is PDE’s position that informal home school co-ops created by parents are not considered to be private organizations and thus do not need clearances.
What if our local school board policies do not currently reflect the changes to the revised act?
PDE recommends that school districts align their local policies concerning background checks for volunteers with the clarified provisions of the CPSL.
Who should schools contact if they have questions?
Please contact PDE’s School Services Office at 717-783-3750 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org