An interesting question arose at a recent board training: What training is required of volunteers in schools?

While the NJSBA policy unit maintains many helpful lists, there was no prepared resource to offer to school districts on this topic. Logically, if a staff member is required to be trained annually on certain topics then regular volunteers may also be required to receive such trainings. Considerations of safety, confidentiality, emergency response, child abuse, drills, allergies, and bullying spring to mind. While it may be a good idea to ensure that regular volunteers have a thorough comprehension of the policies and regulations related to the safety, security and well-being of the students and staff, is it required that volunteers be trained in these areas?

Reviewing policy and law, volunteers must receive training on: harassment, intimidation and bullying; reporting suspected incidents involving missing, abused, or neglected children; and reporting that a student has attempted or completed suicide.

Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights requires that the district/school HIB policy “shall be incorporated into a school’s employee training program and shall be provided to full-time and part-time staff, volunteers who have significant contact with students, and those persons contracted by the district to provide services to students.” The training must include instruction on preventing bullying on the basis of the protected categories.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights requires volunteers to report HIB incidents that they have witnessed or that they have reliable information about according to the procedures detailed in the policy. There is no qualifying statement in this law regarding the volunteer having “significant contact with students” which may be interpreted to mean that all volunteers need to receive information on the reporting requirements and procedures.
Online tutorials are available on the New Jersey Department of Education website.

Missing, Abused and Neglected Children Law requires that the district/school provide training to employees, volunteers, and interns working in the school on the policies and procedures for reporting allegations of missing, abused, or neglected children. All new employees, volunteers and interns must receive the required training as part of their orientation.

The policies and procedures must include provisions for staff, volunteers or interns to report suspected child abuse and neglect directly to the child welfare authorities when the individual has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse. Since direct reporting is required, it follows that training should include information on recognizing the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect.

While not regulated by law, frequently local procedures include notification requirements such as reporting to the principal when an incident is suspected or disclosed. Such requirements do not supersede the individual’s obligation to notify the Division of Children and Families directly but may be required in addition to the direct reporting requirement. District-specific procedures should be communicated to volunteers.

The New Jersey Department of Education with the Department of Children and Families offers training regarding missing, abused and neglected children.

Suicide Volunteers (and interns and staff) who have reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a student has attempted or completed suicide are required to report the information to the Department of Children and Families. There is no requirement to train the volunteer stated outright in the law, but since the reporting requirement applies to volunteers, they need to be aware of the procedures for reporting. Training should include information on recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation.

Considerations for Policy and Procedures Many parents and friends of the school will volunteer occasionally to read to a class, or help with field day or another activity but don’t spend much time in the school or have much contact with children. Having extensive training requirements for all volunteers may discourage these helpers. Board policy and implementing procedures can be used to define these occasional volunteers who may not be subject to training and criminal history requirements. One sample procedure defines the occasional volunteer:

An individual who volunteers occasionally, in a public setting with little or no student contact, and who is under the supervision by district personnel will not be required to complete a criminal background check, but will be required to complete a volunteer application and sign a waiver and user agreement for board of education approval. A volunteer fitting, but not limited to, this example might be someone working at a school fundraising event, concession stand, etc.

Policy and procedures can also be used to define volunteers who have significant contact with students and who may be required to take training and provide a criminal history check. Sample procedures define volunteers who have significant contact with students in various ways such as:

  • Having continuous and direct student contact on or off campus under the supervision by the district personnel.
  • Volunteer athletic coaches and extracurricular activity advisors/assistants and other volunteers as determined by the principal who have ongoing volunteer positions with regular contact with students.

Depending on the nature of the volunteer assignment, training requirements may vary. Below are brief descriptions of training requirements from sample regulations:

  • Volunteers shall receive required training on harassment, intimidation and bullying; suicide reporting requirements; and reporting missing, abused and neglected children. Volunteers shall receive an explanation of each task prior to initial service. Volunteers may receive other preparation or training deemed by the administration to be appropriate to specific functions and/or student needs. When the volunteer receives training, the volunteer shall sign a written acknowledgment of receiving the training.

Or

  • Volunteers shall be instructed on issues of student confidentiality, school safety and security rules and reporting requirements for incidents of harassment intimidation and bullying of students, child abuse and neglect and suicide.

Consider the statement “..training deemed by the administration to be appropriate to specific functions and/or student needs.” While no examples are given, this statement can indicate personal information that a volunteer many need to know such as disability accommodations, medical concerns such as allergies or epilepsy, and even family situations that affect the student’s academic performance, behavior or social skills. Volunteers with frequent contact with students can, as appropriate, have access to what would normally be protected information. Therefore, a clear statement in policy and/or regulation expressing the expectation that volunteers maintain confidentiality is advisable:

  • Treat with confidence all sensitive information regarding students, staff or programs which may be obtained during volunteer activities.

Or

  • Volunteers working with students will respect the confidentiality of the individuals as established by law and of personal information disclosed during the course of conversation with staff and students except in the following cases:
    • If the student or staff member presents a danger to him or herself;
    • If the student or staff member presents danger to others;
    • If a student has been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused or neglected by another person (board policy 5141.4,  Missing, Abused and Neglected Children);

It is important to note that volunteers are visitors and subject to all the rules for visitors. No volunteer packet is complete without the district/school policy and procedures for visitors (NJSBA file code: 1250 Visitors). There may be additional requirements for volunteers such as criminal background checks and training on school policies but that does not entitle a volunteer to wander throughout the schools. Volunteers must be instructed to stay only in the area to which they are assigned and that they are not permitted full access to school facilities. Volunteers are required to be supervised by staff at all times and are not authorized to manage the students independently.

There is no question that volunteers enhance any educational program. Their presence alone demonstrates to our children generous service to others and contributes to a positive school climate.

Appropriately structuring a volunteer program and training your volunteers can contribute to the success of the program and ensure the safety and security of the school community. The specific rules for volunteer training are not clearly defined by the law. Therefore, it is the role of the board to determine the training priorities and create policy and review procedures that will guide a safe and productive volunteer program. For model and sample board policies contact Policy Services.

Jean Harkness is a policy consultant for NJSBA.

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