In Partnership with 74

New fingerprinting requirements are keeping LAUSD parents from volunteering

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | October 15, 2018

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

Parent volunteers at a literacy workshop at LA Unified’s Amestoy Elementary.

Parents who want to volunteer in their children’s schools have run up against a new roadblock this year: a new LA Unified policy is delaying their ability to help teachers in the classroom, and some programs that rely on volunteers have been put on hold.

Starting this school year, LA Unified is requiring anyone who has any contact with children to be fingerprinted, and while parents welcome the safety measures, they are reporting that the process is complicated and time-consuming.

The LA Unified policy to strengthen students’ protection was formalized last August, but this is the first full school year that it is being required at every campus. Before this year, only those volunteers who had “significant contact” with students were asked to be fingerprinted, and it was up to the school’s administrator to decide if it was needed. 

One school waited eight weeks for the first set of 19 parent volunteers to be cleared — “but we have 250 waiting to be processed,” said Anna Born, principal at West Los Angeles’s Overland Elementary. She said the district has been working with her, adding more slots downtown for the fingerprinting appointments and providing a point person to help.

But Born said their gardening program has been put on hold and teachers are missing the help in the classroom.

“Of course the teachers are missing the parents. I’m missing parents. We all are missing the parents,” she said. “I understand the district’s position is difficult because we want all kids to be safe, and that’s the purpose of the fingerprinting. But it’s hard when we as a community have been volunteering and working in the classrooms for years and it hasn’t been a problem.”

She added, “I understand it is going to be difficult for every school in the district.”

As of Friday, the district had processed 1,688 fingerprints. “We are currently working with our schools if there is a parent-run program experiencing challenges with fingerprinting,” an LA Unified spokesperson said. Last year, 16,267 parent volunteers were processed.

To get a volunteer badge, parents have to be fingerprinted because that notifies the district if a person has been arrested or committed a crime. The process requires appointments that must be made by the school’s office, and parents say finding a time slot at the fingerprinting sites has been difficult. Then the parent has to go to one of the seven sites, which for some requires a cross-town trip. Once the parent is cleared, he or she must pick up the badge in person at the school.

There is also a $56 fee charged by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for the fingerprinting. Last month, LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner and board President Mónica García sent a letter to the state attorney general and state superintendent asking for help in getting the fee waived.

Beutner said during his first big policy speech last month that the district needs to “make it easier for parents to volunteer without sacrificing student safety.”

Applicants are also required to present a Social Security number and a California driver’s license or identification card, which could be a barrier to parents who are undocumented. In LA Unified, roughly 1 in 4 students is undocumented or has a parent who is undocumented.

Chicago Public Schools implemented a similar policy this school year, after a Chicago Tribune report exposed hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse at schools. But concerns have already been raised that undocumented immigrant parents have to make a choice between their safety and participating in their children’s school.

At South Central’s 20th Street Elementary, in a low-income neighborhood near downtown, Principal Mario Garcielita said parents need more help getting through the process, so he steps in for any parent who wants to volunteer, doing the paperwork for them and driving them to the appointment, then paying the fee himself from the school’s budget.

Alicia Liotta, an Overland parent, said volunteer-run programs have been halted because parents are still waiting for the appointments or their badges and “are not happy with the process.”

“I just think they are making it very difficult for parents to get into the classroom, and that’s what schools need, especially given the school cuts,” Liotta said.

“I’m not saying that we should not have the fingerprinting, but I just think the process should be made easier,” Liotta said. “I think the district is making it harder and harder for parents to be engaged.”

• Read more: LA parent voice: ‘The district is making it harder and harder for parents to be engaged’

Read Next