Through the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, we are preparing to send a large cohort of our Drexel Law students into the Philadelphia public schools. 2L's and 3L's will teach high schoolers constitutional law and prepare them for a high school moot court competition. But a small snag has come up: every one of the law students must receive an extensive background check prior to entering the classroom. In particular, pursuant to state law, they have to have a PA state criminal background check, an FBI criminal background check, and a fingerprint background check. The total cost: at least $70 per student, born by anyone but the school district. (The same rule applies to undergraduate volunteer tutors, as the Penn Daily pointed out.)
I understand the notion of background checks for full-time employees. Most employers do a (minor league) version of this during a routine hiring process. But the belt-and-suspenders approach we're seeing here - particularly when applied to the manycollege and graduate students who make cameo appearances in the schools - strikes me as a bit much. First, there's the hassle. Months of good teaching tand tutoring will be lost as the background checks get processed. Unlike prospective employees, it's hard to get students (who are after all volunteering) to get the paperwork done (and the fingers printed) during the summer. Then there's the fact that the schools have to charge you to volunteer.
When we talk about moral panics over sex offenses, students of criminal law usually focus on the macro-issues. Over-punishment. Exclusion of individuals from communities. Skewed social policy agendas. But this example suggests that there are many smaller, less visible costs to such policies. If there were substantial proof that these student tutoring/teaching programs introduced real dangers to the students, I could be convinced that the costs and hassle were worth it. But the fact that Dateline Predator has made all of us deeply afraid of sex offenders doesn't seem like a good basis for these policies. And we risk closing the door on a world of wonderful opportunities.