HYDE PARK — Chicago Public Schools wants fingerprints on file of all parents and others volunteering at schools, and volunteers will have to travel to one of four locations to have their prints taken.
"In order to ensure the appropriate level of safety for the students of CPS, we are now fingerprinting all volunteers who will have direct and regular contact with students,” Angela Mason-Johnson, director of staffing services at CPS, wrote in a letter sent to local school councils across the city on Monday.
Previously, all volunteers went through a background check, but only those with a past criminal conviction were required to submit fingerprints before being allowed to work in the schools.
Under the new requirement, even volunteers who have worked in the schools in the past and have already been through a background check still need to get fingerprinted, officials said. They will have to travel to one of four locations in Bridgeport, Jefferson Park, the Loop or Fulton Market to be fingerprinted.
Accurate Biometrics will be paid $650,000 a year through 2014 to do all fingerprinting and will control the data for the first year before it is transferred to CPS, according to a contract approved by the board in June 2012.
“This policy will likely have a negative impact on the rate of volunteerism in our schools given that there is only one allowed vendor with just four locations around the city,” said Wendy Katten, director of Raise Your Hand, a public education advocacy group. “If CPS truly wants to engage parents in their children's education, they will find a way to make the process more local and convenient for parents to go through these steps.”
Since 2006, all volunteers working directly with students have been required to go through a background check.
Katten expressed her concerns about implementing the new procedure at the October Board of Education meeting unaware that the measure was internally approved by CPS months prior.
According a CPS spokesman, since the move is a change in protocol — and not the underlying policy — it does not need board approval after it was implemented in early August. CPS will pay all costs associated with the fingerprinting, according to the spokesman.
The contract signed in 2011 did not provide the cost for fingerprinting, but a 2008 CPS contract with the Chicago-based company put the cost at $55 per individual.
Individuals volunteering for a short period of time for events like career day or science fairs are not required to go through the fingerprinting and background check, the spokesman said.