Jefferson County Public Schools Considers Easing Restrictions for Ex-Felon Parent Volunteers

Some parents with felony backgrounds who are banned from volunteering in Jefferson County Public Schools may soon be allowed the privilege.

Volunteer applicants in JCPS are automatically rejected from assisting schools in a supervisory role if they are convicted of, or plead guilty to, any felony—no matter how long ago it happened.

(Click here to see WFPL’s previous coverage on rejected volunteers.)

But district officials are reconsidering that policy, saying schools are losing out on parent involvement—considered by many a key to improving education—from those who have served their time.

A policy committee made up of three board members (Linda Duncan, Carol Haddad and Chuck Haddaway) met this week to discuss potential changes to the JCPS policy that could eventually be considered by the full board.

“Lives change over periods of time and that’s what we want to look at and see what would be an appropriate time period to look for,” Duncan says.

In 2010-11, JCPS got about 22,000 volunteer applications. A majority of the 1,013 reject applications that school year were related to drug offenses, according to JCPS research. The average number of years between the conviction and the volunteer application was six.

 One area where the school board may relax its policy is with drug and alcohol related offenses, which currently results in automatic rejections, Duncan says.

The Kentucky School Boards Association provided JCPS with sample policies from other school districts, some of which allow certain ex-felons to re-apply after a number of years from their conviction.

The policy is not likely to change with regards to its automatic ban on child-related convictions, officials said.

But, during the discussion, Duncan expressed concern with the five-year period proposed by JCPS after which ex-felons could re-apply to volunteer.

“I felt a little less comfortable with five years. I felt that 10 years really establishes more of a pattern for a person and allows a longer period of correction,” she says.

Shawn Gardner committed his felony nearly 20 years ago and served two years in jail. He has since founded the organization 2Not1 that helps fathers become more involved in their child’s life. But he has been rejected from volunteering at his four daughters’ schools.

Gardner says five years is plenty of time to ban ex-felons from volunteering because research shows a majority of released prisoners are re-arrested within three years and about half are re-incarcerated in that time.

Plus, “if you wait too long the kid is out of school,” he adds.

In Kentucky, the recidivism rate is about 38 percent within three years of release, according the recent data from the Department of Corrections.

Gardner says he has been able to find ways to support his daughters’ schools and education but recognizes “it would be a lot less of a hassle if there if these was some type of process or policy in place.”

But Gardner may be out of luck if JCPS doesn’t add more relief to those convicted of theft-related felonies—like Gardner—which may not be included in a policy approved by the committee.

JCPS has encouraged rejected parents to volunteer and help schools in the ways they are allowed. Beginning this year, the district has been sending that information home to rejected applicants, officials say.

Here is a list of what rejected applicants are allowed:

  • Visit their student’s classroom and volunteer in class on an occasional basis as long as JCPS teacher or staff is present
  • Attend parent/teacher conferences and other school activities where parents are invited
  • Belong to the school PTA
  • Have lunch with their student
  • Attend a field trip with their student to a public venue at their own expense provided they do not utilize district transportation and are not responsible for chaperoning other students

The JCPS policy committee did not approve any policy version this week. Instead, JCPS staff write additional policies and come back to the group with more versions in two weeks, officials said. The committee will recommend one version to the full board, at which point the board can make changes as desired.

When asked whether she expected the full board to consider a new policy, Duncan said, “yes, we definitively will.”

(Image via Shutterstock)

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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