Cost/benefit and stupid bureaucracies

Last week, I was going to write a post about how stupid the Wake County Public School system was for insisting that volunteers come into an actual school to use a website to register for a criminal background check in order to be school volunteers.  Given that they are going to the trouble and expense of the background check, is there any plausible reason the registration needs to access the website via a school computer rather than wherever is convenient for the parent?  Surely not.  End result is only to cut down on potential volunteers helping out in the schools.

Well, if that wasn’t dumb enough, I came across a story in the paper the next day about a ridiculous arbitrary volunteer deadline which will, of course, only do more to limit volunteers.  Whereas WCPSS has been sensible in the past and only required a full check on volunteers who would be alone with children and not supervised by teachers, now everybody gets a criminal background check.  This is not cost-less either– there’s a very real financial costs and the fact that we end up with less volunteers.  And honestly, does the criminal history of someone coming into the classroom to help Kindergarteners learn to read really matter.  Well, I guess it does if you are one of the overly-paranoid modern parents that seem to make these policies happen.

Anyway, instead of writing a blog post on the matter on Friday, I devoted my time to forcing my thoughts into less than 200 words for a Letter to the Editor.  Here it is:

The Wake County Public School System’s latest policy on school volunteers seems to be little more than wasteful fear-mongering rather than a reasonable attempt to balance safety and financial needs as claimed by the school system (news story, Oct. 7).

While it makes perfect sense to check the backgrounds of those who will be left unsupervised with children – on field trips, for example – as WCPSS has been doing for years, just what is the purpose of a full criminal background check on all volunteers? Does it actually endanger our children in any way if a parent helping out with the book fair or a fun run has a past conviction for marijuana possession or writing bad checks?

This new policy seems especially problematic since it is clearly a financially costly action in a time of budget difficulties, when there is no clear reason to believe that this will make our children any safer. Has there been any problem with supervised volunteers without background checks harming children in any way? If so, would criminal background checks have even prevented that harm?

Without answers to these questions, the policy hardly seems reasonable. We all want our kids to be safe, but WCPSS should be smart about it.

Steven Greene


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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