HB81: Protection for children in our schools

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

The House Education Committee yesterday voted to expand criminal background checks for employees in public education (HB81) to include volunteers.
Some of the language may be vague, though, according to a criminal defense lawyer, cited in a Salt Lake Tribune article.

Legislators dismissed the concerns of Rob Layton, of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who warned that vague language in the bill would make it difficult for citizens to volunteer in schools.
“You are excluding a large range of people,” he said, citing those who have been arrested, but not charged, and those who have been convicted of drug and alcohol-related misdemeanors, such as open container and marijuana possession laws. “It is just additional burdens on [volunteers].”

There are those who feel that no one with any blemish on their records should then be permitted to work in schools.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, said more stringent requirements are necessary to protect children. The bill comes after public safety officials last year unearthed nearly 7,000 arrests, criminal charges or convictions. But a single employee could account for a dozen or more of those, said agency spokesman Jeff Nigbur.

Schools like the Open Classroom, which mandates parent volunteerism as part of children being students in the school could be adversely impacted.

Under this law, then, even former Sen. Sheldon Killpack would likely be unable to volunteer in his neighborhood school.

There is no doubt that our children need to, and should be, protected. The concept of this bill is a good one. Everyone makes mistakes. There should be a balance between discerning who the real threat to children are and those who make mistakes that have no impact on working with children.

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