School Forced To Change Policy On Volunteers

A Rhode Island mother who was barred from volunteering at her daughter’s school because of her criminal drug history has settled her lawsuit against the school department after it changed its policy.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Cranston School District in 2010 on behalf of Jessica Doyle after she was barred from volunteering in her daughter’s kindergarten class. Doyle had been a drug addict for several years in her early 20s and went to jail for 90 days for heroin possession before her daughter was born. She got clean in drug rehabilitation and gave birth to her daughter in 2003.

A policy enacted in Cranston in 2009 required criminal background checks of parents seeking to volunteer and automatically disqualified anyone with a felony drug conviction, regardless of how long ago it was or whether the person had been rehabilitated.

The new policy will not automatically disqualifies anyone with a felony drug conviction and allows the school superintendent to consider when the conviction happened, whether the person has been rehabilitated, personal references and other factors.

The head of the school committee did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Doyle said she would organize events that she was not allowed to attend because of the ban. She said her daughter asked her many times to volunteer, and wondered why she didn’t. Immediately after learning the policy had changed this month, Doyle volunteered at a ‘‘Polar Express’’ event at her daughter’s school.