Your child is going on their first field trip. Maybe it’s to the zoo or the aquarium. You receive a letter in the mail asking for volunteers to chaperone. Great, you think! I’m free on that day, and I’d love to accompany a group of kids to wherever they’re going. That sounds like fun, but wait…what’s this? You will be subject to a background check and possibly fingerprinted. It will cost you $45 to boot!
This is precisely the conundrum facing parents kind enough to offer to chaperone. It can be tricky to navigate the various field trip forms, school district policies and vaguely worded web sites proclaiming they “explain” the process.
It used to be simple in the Seattle School District. You had a kid in school, you volunteered and then you went. However, one incident in 2011 worried many. A wanted felon ended up chaperoning a field trip since his daughter was a student enrolled at Lowell Elementary School. Somehow, during the field trip, the police discovered he was wanted. Nothing happened to the children, but the school was put on lockdown as police tried to locate the wanted man. He was later caught, but parents questioned the district policy on chaperones.
How do things stand now? All volunteers, including chaperones, are required to undergo a criminal background check known as WATCH or Washington Access to Criminal History. This is a minimal online check. However, chaperones who will spend time alone with students must be fingerprinted. This pertains to overnight chaperones in particular.
All chaperones must be at least 21 years old. There is no information about whether parents will be required to pay for the fingerprinting out of their own pocket. Some background checks and fingerprinting can cost up to $45. For some parents, this prices them out of the job. Many low-income parents do not have an extra $45 to spend to be fingerprinted.
All the nebulous language and intense scrutiny have some parents complaining that we may have gone too far. We’re all for safety, but…it is a little much.