Pella Chronicle

March 20, 2014

Decade old charge keeps parent from chaperoning

By Kyle Ocker and Krystal Fowler
The Daily Iowegian

CENTERVILLE — A Centerville mother was upset to find out a 10 year old simple misdemeanor conviction kept her from being an official chaperone on a school jazz band trip her daughter is partaking in.

Tina Long-Collins was even more upset to find out she was never given a chance to defend her position in front of the school board, or even the superintendent who ultimately stopped her volunteer application without passing it on to the school board.

That jazz band is scheduled to leave Friday, April 4 for the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire and will return Sunday, April 6. The trip will also include a stop at the Mall of America in Minnesota.

Long said during a phone interview with the Daily Iowegian that she’s still going on the trip regardless, just not as a chaperone. She will travel on her own rather than traveling with the students in school vehicles on the band trip, as an official chaperone.

What caused a red flag on Collins’ background check was an assault conviction from 2004, a simple misdemeanor charge.

According to the complaint and affidavit filed in 2004 that was obtained by the Daily Iowegian, Collins was charged for punching a former boyfriend, causing a minor red mark on his cheek. The affidavit confirms that Collins was attempting to get her former boyfriend to leave her home.

Collins said she admitted to throwing the punch to police, which the affidavit also noted.

“It was me protecting my house and my kid,” Collins said. “I could have it expunged from my record, but why should I have to alter my past? What happened 10 years ago has made me the person I am today. Why should I hide that? I’m not ashamed of it.”

According to Collins, superintendent Tony Ryan decided due to the past charge, there was no reason for him to pass her volunteer form on to the school board for consideration.

The official Centerville District policy which covers volunteering for the schools is vague on what conditions or guidelines volunteers must follow in order to be approved.

The Centerville Community Board of Education Code No. 904.2 states, in part, “Guidelines for volunteers will be provided by the administration team.” The last revision to that code was Nov. 11, 2003.

The last review of the policy was done in November of 2012. At their regular meeting in December of 2012, the board ultimately decided to leave the language of the policy the same, but did direct in comments to the superintendent that they would like volunteer agreements to be brought to the board for approval going forward. However they also indicated the administration and superintendent would have discretion on which volunteers to present for approval.

During the review process, it was also shared with the board that attorney Rick Engel recommended that anyone involved with the district, including volunteers should undergo background checks. The board accepted this advice. Since then, all volunteers have had to submit to a background check and be brought to the board for approval before they can volunteer for any position in the district. Volunteer positions can range from reading in the classroom, coaching, field trip supervisors or many other duties.

The school district can accept or reject the services of any volunteer. The district may also end a volunteer agreement at any time. The non-employee volunteer contract located in the 900 series of board policies states in part, “I understand that my participation as a volunteer may be terminated at any time, without cause …”

Collins said she requested a copy of the board policy as well as a written statement of why she wouldn’t be allowed to go from Ryan, but wasn’t given either, saying the superintendent nodded but ultimately ignored her request.

Superintendent Ryan said in an interview that each potential volunteer is evaluated on both their background check and the duties and responsibilities that would be involved in their volunteer position.

“Each situation’s conducted on a case by case basis,” said Ryan. “Each volunteer must submit to a background check at this time and it is for the safety of the kids. When anomalies occur in the individual’s history or the background administrative team members must review the appropriateness for the necessary duties assigned and we try to make a good fit there.”

“When I speak on a case by case basis…depending on the needs and depending on the duties assigned for that volunteer position, it’s a case by case basis from there as far as looking at the big picture and analyzing what’s appropriate for that environment for the kids, keeping the kids as the number one reason for making the decisions that we are,” said Ryan.

“Above all else we want to create an environment for our students that is healthy and safe,” said Ryan. “This unique situation is we had to take in consideration that we’re sending our kids on an overnight field trip for a period of time. In the end we work very hard to make decisions based around kids. Her specific situation I don’t want to make comments specifically to because I’m not quite for sure if that would be a fair response.”

Collins said she is a “very involved parent” in the community, with many people around to provide good references to her character. Many of those people chimed in with e-mails to Ryan to state their case. Collins said she was also planning on sending letters to all of the school board members asking for their help as well.

“And I have nothing but respect for everybody in the school district…,” said Long-Collins. “I don’t want the school district bashed by any means.”

According to online court records from Iowa, the assault charge is the only simple misdemeanor charge on her record. Besides that charge, the other charges are all for minor traffic violations, the most recent being a failure to secure safety belt ticket from 2005.

Superintendent Ryan said that he wouldn’t want members of the community to be discouraged from volunteering due to the background check requirement.

“…I do want to express that we appreciate the volunteers,” said Ryan. “They are an integral part of the success of the district…We do work very hard to create a positive environment for all involved and that would include our community members and our volunteers.”

Ryan said that administrators are always analyzing policies to try to make them more streamlined and make them work better.

“We are always taking a step back administratively and reviewing what our experiences have been, what our policies say and making the processes a little bit better as we move into the future,” said Ryan. “We would hope that our volunteers work with us along that process and have a cooperative relationship with the school.”

“At this point, we believe we are going on the guidance of the board right now, as far as having our volunteers approved at the board level,” said Ryan. “I expressed to the board that I am open to having conversations with any board member that wants to give me a call.”

Long-Collins plans to be in attendance at the School Board’s Monday, March 31 meeting when she hopes the board will review the volunteer policy once again.