Beaufort Co. schools to require background checks for volunteers - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Beaufort Co. schools to require background checks for volunteers

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BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) -

After several legal incidents with school volunteers, the Beaufort County School District has decided to change their screening process.

They will now require volunteers to go through the same background check as faculty and staff.

One example: their current system did not detect the felony arrest record of a Bluffton High School girls basketball assistant who allegedly fought with one of the players last month.

The district plans to hire an outside company that will do nationwide checks, and include various sex offender registries .  

The school district has nearly 3,000 volunteers.

Not all of them will have to go through a background check, but those who are left alone with students, without a teacher or other faculty members present, will have to undergo a check.

"A mentor, or coach or a field trip chaperone,"  said spokesperson Jim Foster. "We're going to look more closely at those."

The district currently uses an internal software program called WinOcular to check volunteers. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division conduct background checks on employees. 

The outside company should be able to check employees and volunteers together, according to Foster.  He said the system will be more extensive, too. 

"What we found is that the system we were using had some holes in it. We found that a volunteer had a criminal arrest that we were unaware of, so once that door was open we started looking at the whole process and we tried to develop something that makes kids as safe as they can be,"  said Foster.

Melissa Howard's son attends Hilton Head Island Elementary School.  She is proud of school officials' efforts to keep students safe.

"It's a great idea, especially if they're going to be working with the children in the county," said Howard. "They should have to go through a background check to work with children."

The district doesn't know what the new system will cost.  According to Foster, the district spent  more than $21,000 on background checks for employees.

Howard said cost is not important when it comes to protecting students.

"You can't put a price tag on a child's life," she said. 

Foster says the district will be hiring an outside company  to do those background checks for volunteers very soon. They're hoping to have the system up and running no later than April.

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