Forgive felons, let them volunteer


Drew Jackson

People previously convicted of felonies may soon be allowed to volunteer at Pinellas schools

Felons volunteering in school? It’s a thought everyone might wince at, but the Pinellas County School Board is considering just that. According to the Tampa Bay Times, school board officials are reexamining the county’s policy of barring people with felony convictions from volunteering in Pinellas County schools. While no one argues that people who have been convicted of sexual molestation, murder, or drug dealing should not be allowed to work with children, the case for other felonies is a bit more unclear. And in my opinon, this is worth consideration.
The issue was first raised last August, when according to the Tampa Bay Times, a Lakewood PTA president was removed from her position for check fraud she had already served time for. In the recent election for the school board seat of District 4, both candidates are in favor of reevaluating the policy that bars people with felonies on their record from volunteering in schools. The current policy concerning non-sexual, non-violent felonies is that “the district keeps out parents convicted of selling drugs any time in the past 25 years, along with parents who have committed any other felony in the past 10 years,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. If the crime was committed longer ago, Pinellas can still decide to ban offenders from its volunteer programs. In comparison, Hillsborough County deals with felonies on a case-by-case basis.

Now, I’m not arguing sex offenders should be allowed to chaperone elementary school field trips, nor do I think those convicted of tax evasion should be made PTA treasurer. However, PCSB’s current policy is unnecessarily restrictive. Like Hillsborough and other counties in the Tampa Bay area, each felony case should be decided individually, with proper precautions being taken depending on the crime. Using my earlier example, a tax evader should not be allowed to become treasurer, but there is no reason why the same person can’t chaperone field trips.

In addition, I would argue this policy has adverse effects in other ways. Felons are released from prison every day, with some of them having been reformed and ready to become productive members of society. For these people, restriction from volunteering further reminds them of a shameful past that they can never move on from. Reformed felons should be able to have a sense of normality after their release, and volunteering would help these people integrate back into free society, and once again become healthy and productive citizens. Thus, a less blanket policy would benefit Pinellas as a whole, and I applaud the School Board for at least reconsidering their blanket policy.