School helpers must register in Wake

Deadline today in Wake system

Staff WriterOctober 8, 2010 

  • Q. What is Wake doing with its volunteer registration system?

    A. The school system will shut down its volunteer registration system at 5 p.m. today. All applications that come in by the deadline will be processed. The system will be reopened for a week in early December and a week in late March or early April to make sure there are enough proctors for state exams.

    Q. What happens if I don't register today or when the system reopens later this year?

    A. It would be up to the principal to send your application to the school system to process the request. But principals have been told that because of limited resources "it is imperative that any new applicants after October 8 be only ones that are absolutely necessary."

    Q. Why is Wake closing the system?

    A. School officials are citing the cost of running criminal background checks at $4.25 per report, a total of $130,000 for the nearly 30,000 people who've registered so far. They also say they're not expecting many more volunteers at this point in the school year.

    Q. Who doesn't have to register?

    A. Guest speakers and parents coming to school to eat lunch with their children shouldn't be registered as volunteers. People who show up at schools for single or random occasions such as awards assemblies and presenters at career fairs, academic fairs and fundraising assemblies should also not be registered as volunteers.

    Q. How do I register to volunteer?

    A. You need to use special computers at schools or at Wake's Central Administration Building, 3600 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

    Q. Is Wake's system unique to the Triangle?

    A. Yes. The Durham County, Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Johnston County school systems do not run criminal background checks on all volunteers. Checks are done on volunteers who have unsupervised access to students. Those districts also do not limit when volunteers can apply.

Wake County parents who think they can volunteer anytime they want at their child's school will get a rude surprise if they don't register with the school system today.

Citing the financial cost of running criminal background checks, the Wake school system will close its volunteer registration system at 5 p.m. today. People who want to volunteer won't have another opportunity until December when registration will again be open for one week. Another week of registration will be held in the spring, school officials say. In the meantime, principals are being told not to accept volunteer applications after today unless the help is "absolutely necessary."

"We're trying to balance safety needs and financial needs," said Michael Evans, a Wake schools' spokesman.

Principals were notified about the shutdown Tuesday. Schools have sent phone and e-mail messages urging people to register by today.

The effect on school activities dependent on volunteers is uncertain. Sarah Martin, past president of the Wake County PTA Council, said PTAs might not have enough volunteers for activities such as science fairs and book fairs.

"I wish there had been a little more warning for the blackout date," Martin said.

Wake began running criminal background checks on all volunteers this year. Previously, Wake ran those checks only on volunteers who have one-on-one or unsupervised access outside the classroom with students, such as tutors and field trip chaperones.

Other school districts in the area follow Wake's prior practice of background checks and don't restrict registration.

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