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Iowa schools can’t disclose volunteers’ criminal histories

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa law prohibits school districts from informing parents about the criminal records of felons volunteering in schools, according to district officials.

The Des Moines Register found through open records requests that convicted felons are volunteering in at least three of the state’s largest school districts in Des Moines, Davenport and Dubuque.

Davenport had three volunteers with felony records during the 2016-17 school year. A volunteer in Des Moines had a conviction for a non-violent drug offense, while two volunteers in Dubuque have drunk driving convictions.

School officials said that Iowa Code bars districts from disclosing volunteers’ criminal histories.

Many Iowa districts screen school volunteers even though background checks aren’t required by state law. But a criminal conviction doesn’t automatically disqualify someone from volunteering in Iowa’s K-12 schools.

Des Moines officials review the details of the conviction before making a decision. The district had 1,500 volunteer applications last year, and only one person with a felony conviction was approved to volunteer, said district spokesman Phil Roeder.

“Volunteers with a prior felony are extremely rare,” Roeder said. “One absolute in rejecting a volunteer application is if an individual is listed on the sex offender registry.”

The Mid-Prairie school district adopted new guidelines regarding volunteer background checks last month. The district will increase the frequency of background checks and consult the state Board of Educational Examiners’ list of crimes that disqualify someone from becoming a teacher. School officials will also review convictions that aren’t included on the disqualifying list.

The changes come after former Anita students raised concerns last spring that the district had allowed Trent Yoder to volunteer for years. Yoder was convicted for videotaping a girl changing her clothes when he was a teacher in Anita in 1998 and has spent 10 years on Iowa’s sex offender registry.

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