Ellwood City Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) numbers have dropped from 565 to 72, according to a comment made by school board President Renee Pitrelli. This is an 87.3% drop, although the time span for this drop was not mentioned.
At the Ellwood City Area school board agenda meeting on Monday, visitor Kathy McCommons, president of the PTO, attributed much of the decline to an Ellwood School District FBI clearance requirement for volunteers providing services to the district.
The third, an FBI clearance, costs approximately $28.75 and requires fingerprinting. The nearest fingerprinting locations are in New Castle, Grove City, Cranberry Township and Butler.
Pennsylvania only requires FBI clearance for residents who haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for at least 10 years. However, the Ellwood School District requires it for all volunteers.
McCommons believes the cost and time requirement inhibits PTO membership.
The board discussed the matter but did not give serious consideration to changing the requirement.
It is not abnormal for organizations within Pennsylvania, such as the PIAA, to require FBI clearance for all members. Vice President Matt Morella and board members Jennifer Tomon, Danielle Woodhead, Erica Gray and Pitrelli all had to get the FBI clearance.
“It does hurt potential volunteers, but is giving our due diligence,” Morella said.
Gray, a PTO member herself, believed in the importance of getting all three as well. It was eventually suggested that boosters could raise money to pay for the requirement in some volunteer organizations.
The reasoning behind Pennsylvania not requiring FBI clearance for residents who have been in the state for 10 years is an assumption that any crimes that would disqualify individuals from working with children would show up on the other two clearances.
However, it is possible that somebody committed a felony in Idaho or Malaysia in 1982 that would only show up on the FBI test.
Borough solicitor John DeCaro said that for the best legal defense, all three should be required. If someone commits a crime in the district and previous crimes outside of Pennsylvania subsequently surface, the district would be in shaky defensive territory.
As such, the board seemed settled on maintaining the requirement.
Further Discussion on Non-Volunteers in Contact with District Children
However, newly elected President Renee Pitrelli further inquired about other instances where people in contact with district children do not require clearances. Basically, anyone using school property but not providing a service for the district does not require clearance. In addition, the district is not liable if such individuals commit a crime.
For example, the Special Olympics personnel do not have to get clearance with the district since they are not providing a service to the district, rather the district is loaning a gym for the Special Olympics.
Pitrelli was concerned about the safety of allowing people access to the building in such circumstances, but DeCaro reminded the president that it is not possible to test everyone who would be in contact with district children on district property.
The amount of people that would cover is too large to name in an article, as it includes everybody using school property anywhere, such as people leisurely walking on the track on a summer morning, visitors to sports games, the Ellwoodcity.org journalist, every participant of Relay for Life, and every single person who steps foot on district property during the Ellwood City Festival.