Law may deter volunteers

Roughly 2,500 GW students who volunteered at D.C. public schools last year could have to go through a background check before doing so again in the future. The D.C. City Council might consider a bill next month that would require all unsupervised volunteers to be fingerprinted at their own cost before working with children in local schools.

University officials are strongly opposing the mandatory fingerprinting proposal, saying it would make the volunteer process more difficult for GW students.

Last week, a D.C. City Council committee chaired by Councilwoman Sandy Allen unanimously voted in favor of the bill, which would mandate that all unsupervised volunteers working with children in public schools pay about $40 to be fingerprinted by Metropolitan Police.

The measure aims to ensure that violent criminals do not have access to children.

If Council Chair Linda Cropp decides not to add the proposal to the agenda for the organization’s next meeting, on Dec. 7, it will expire.

Under the proposal, volunteers would also be required to undergo criminal background checks by the FBI. Volunteers may use the same criminal background check for two years when applying for multiple volunteer positions as long as they keep a clear record during that time.

Sally Kram, director of government and community relations for the Consortium of Universities, said the bill should not be applied to college student volunteers. Kram said the legislation has been a “thorny issue” for universities that do not want to appear as if they are against child safety.

“There were instances of sexual abuse, and in some cases, drug use, by District federal employees,” Kram said. “There are no publicized instances of a college student volunteer abusing or molesting a child.”

About 10,000 college students volunteered in the District last year, Kram said. Close to 2,500 were GW students, logging nearly 90,000 hours of community service.

GW officials said they are against the bill because it would deter students from volunteering in public schools.

“Our concern is that it will have the unintended effect of driving down the number of college students who volunteer in the District,” said Michael Akin, the University’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs.

Kram said that even if the Council were to pass the bill, city resources may not be available to properly institute it. She said it could bog down MPD staff with unnecessary criminal background checks.

Mustaafa Dozier, a committee clerk for Allen, said the committee took a great deal of consideration to make sure student volunteers are not deterred from working in D.C.

“They tried to ensure that it wasn’t so restrictive that it hampered people from volunteering,” he said.

The legislation, entitled the “Criminal Background Checks for the Protection of Children Emergency Act of 2004,” is designed to detect people who have committed major felonies. Students who have had minor brushes will the law would still be allowed to volunteer, he added.

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