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School volunteer-policy revisions look to ease requirement for references, prohibit social media posts

Everyone loves a field trip, but they don't belong on Facebook or Twitter.

A draft revision to the School Department's volunteer policy is asking volunteers not to post, or even to take photographs or video of students while on duty.

The policy update was presented to the School Board for first reading on April 11, 2017, and will likely be adopted at the May meeting.

While not officially on the books, board member and policy subcommittee chair Barbara Powers said the revision will be communicated to parents in time for the flurry of spring activities after April vacation. The final revision will also likely go a step further, asking volunteers not to use personal devices at all.

"This is really to imply use of personal devices around our students has no place in a volunteer relationship," Powers said, although a teacher may ask a volunteer to snap a shot with school-issued equipment. "And certainly posting of that material gets in the way of other policies we have about parents giving explicit approval before kids can be featured on social media," she said.

The update is one of four proposed for the volunteer policy, last revised in 2005. Other revisions would limit the requirement for references to non-parent volunteers only; require principal's approval of regular volunteers rather than all volunteers; and, loosen a requirement for "immediate" supervision of volunteers working with students.

"There was a conversation, particularly at the elementary level, about whether immediate supervision meant constant visual supervision," Powers said. That sounds terrific and is fully endorsed, Powers said, "but there are times when it's really helpful if a volunteer can just step outside the door and work with someone in the hallway so it isn't as distracting to the class, or perhaps take a small group to the knuckle and be in a commonly supervised area," she said. A knuckle is a corner of the school hallway.

The draft revision removes the word 'immediate,' but implies that the teacher can determine a comfortable level of supervision, depending on the age of the children, Powers said.

While background checks will still be required of all volunteers, only non-parent volunteers would need to provide references, Powers said. "Our feeling was that internal (parent) volunteers already have a relationship with the schools through their children's teacher, principal and so forth," she said. "But folks coming in to our community with super-good intentions, or would like to contribute to the schools, we would just ask that they also provide a couple of references, that (Volunteer Coordinator John Holdridge) would then check out on our behalf," Powers said.