As a result of the arrest last May of Lincoln Middle School teacher Thomas Beltran on 23 counts of child molestation, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School district has decided to do background checks on all school volunteers.
After Beltran’s arrest, the District formed an Ad Hoc Policy Committee to help advise their administration on what policy changes to make to avoid similar incidents in the future. So far, the School Board has modified the District’s child abuse and sexual harassment policies. District officials have also recently implemented a new policy suggested by the Ad Hoc Committee for doing criminal background checks on School District volunteers.
The new policy is modeled after the one being used by the Burbank Unified School District, and it establishes two levels of volunteers. The District’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Michael Matthews, explained that Level One volunteers are those who work “under the constant supervision of a certificated employee. These volunteers serve during and after school hours to work in classrooms, on the campus, or in special school programs.” In order to volunteer, they now “must be TB tested every four years, be checked against the Megan’s Law website, and be approved by the school.” Each individual school site will be responsible for receiving, approving, and maintaining Level One volunteer applications.
Level Two volunteers also work under the supervision of a certificated employee, but may occasionally be left unsupervised with students. These volunteers will now be subject to greater scrutiny; they are required to be TB tested every four years, be checked against the Megan’s Law website, be fingerprinted by the District, and be approved by both the school and the District.
The fingerprinting will handled by the District’s Live Scan fingerprinting machine, which sends digitally scanned fingerprints to the Department of Justice to perform a criminal background check. In an interview with the Mirror, Matthews explained that once an employee or volunteer is fingerprinted, the District is automatically notified if that person is ever arrested. This notification goes on indefinitely. He estimated that the District currently has about 200-300 Level Two volunteers and about 2,000-3,000 Level One volunteers. Both new and existing volunteers will be checked according to the new standards.
Matthews also mentioned that the School Board would be discussing these new administrative regulations at their December 11 meeting. One other check they plan to discuss is having the District do DMV checks “on anyone that is driving.”
Ad Hoc Committee member Michael Chwe told the Mirror “the new volunteer policy is a step in the right direction. Many other school districts and youth organizations, such as AYSO and Little League, have required criminal background checks for volunteers for years.”
Matthews emphasized that we “want to make our students safer by instituting this policy, even though we haven’t had any problems in this area” with our volunteers.