Trustees reject policy amendment requiring police checks for volunteers

Volunteer Policy 205 will be reviewed by board staff before being brought back to trustees

GUELPH – An amendment to a policy that would require all volunteers with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) to obtain a vulnerable sector check when working with students under the age of 18 has been defeated.

Trustees discussed Volunteer Policy 205, which outlines guidelines for community and parent involvement in schools, during a May 24 board meeting, with trustees deadlocked in a tie vote, which is considered a failed vote.

During the meeting, delegations were made by two community members who were opposed to the policy amendment.

“Without volunteers we’re saying goodbye to things like graduation ceremonies, we’re saying goodbye to snack programs, we’re saying goodbye to pizza lunches, we’re saying goodbye to book fairs, we’re saying goodbye to playgrounds,” said delegate and volunteer Jen Tulloch.

“All of these things are facilitated by volunteers.”

Tulloch said while she does agree there should be a vulnerable sector check when volunteers are working with students in a high-risk setting like overnight field trips, the policy goes against equity, diversity and inclusion, as some volunteers may not be comfortable going to a police station to obtain a check.

Elementary teacher and delegate Jen MacLeod also recognized the vulnerable sector check is necessary when there is close contact or if somebody is unsupervised, but she said the wording in the new amendment makes it quite restrictive.

Given that the board is responsible for the students once they’re in its care, trustee Gail Campbell said a vulnerable sector check is absolutely necessary for anyone the board allows to volunteer to work in its schools or be with students.

“We need to ensure that anyone that comes in contact with the students entrusted to our care have been cleared by the police,” she said, adding checks should be done annually by the board.

While trustee Mike Foley agreed with Campbell, he said the board should revisit the policy to revise some concerns he had around the degree of risk identified in the risk assessment tool.

“I was a little disturbed by the degree of physical contact,” Foley said.

“I find that a little disturbing to think that any volunteer is going to be changing, bathing, toileting a child or that there’s going to be regular contact such as hugging children.

“This isn’t high risk or medium risk – this should be just purely not allowed by a volunteer.”

Trustee Martha MacNeil said although she recognizes a vulnerable sector check is an important tool and is necessary in situations where volunteers are working one-on-one with a student, it shouldn’t be required in all volunteer positions in schools.

“For example, standing in an office sorting out pizza slices to be delivered to a classroom,” she said.

“These are small jobs and asking a parent to undertake a vulnerable sector check when they’re doing a 10-minute job is unreasonable.

“It takes effort, it is not equitable, not everyone has access to it and also, it’s a snapshot in time and it’s not a precise tool … it’s a very, very blunt tool.”

Trustee Barbara Lustgarten Evoy, who said she is a strong advocate against human trafficking, stressed her support for the new policy, noting that even if a volunteer isn’t working directly with a student, all it takes is to get to know them through observation and running into them in the hallways.

“I think generally we’re not clear enough about the horrors of human trafficking, but it’s happening in every school and every city and every community across this country,” she explained.

“So for us to take it so lightly because they’re not in direct contact is what’s concerning me.”

Lustgarten Evoy said the board’s focus should be on how it can remove barriers for volunteers trying to get a vulnerable sector check, rather than removing volunteers.

“The general population, the only barrier they’re facing, for most of the volunteers, is time and effort,” she said.

“Surely the children we’re striving to support are worth our time and effort.”

Trustee Foley put forward a motion – which was carried – to have the policy reviewed again by board staff before it is revisited by trustees.

“The mechanics just aren’t there; we need to really polish it up and look at some of the other concerns,” Foley said.

“I think the essence is good, but a lot of the mechanical details need to be reworked.”