Editorial: Lake Park officials need detailed policy for vetting volunteers
News that Lake Park High School head football coach Chris Roll had been removed from his position upset some parents and students, who were quick to point out how much Roll has done for the community and for the kids he's guided.
While we understand their loyalty, and laud the contributions Roll has made, it is important to understand that Lake Park High School District 108 officials had no choice but to strip Roll of his coaching position in light of his decision to skip a background check on a volunteer coach later discovered to be a convicted sex offender.
Frank J. Battaglia, 72, was on a list of names to be vetted until, officials said, Roll "directed an assistant coach to remove the volunteer coach from the list of names submitted to human resources for a background check."
Battaglia had pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a high school girl in the early 1990s. His background came to light when a school board member attending a game approached Principal Dominic Manola and said that Battaglia had a potentially problematic past. Manola told the board member that background checks are done on all volunteer and paid coaches, but did not follow up. Meanwhile, Athletic Director Pete Schauer -- when told that Battaglia had "limited contact" with students -- didn't press for a background check.
Both Manola and Schauer have also been disciplined. Parents should respect that decision and see it as a step toward accountability and safety at the Roselle school.
District Superintendent Lynn Panega said Friday that background checks are a "practice" the district put in place in 2014 -- not a policy. That needs to change.
School districts need policies spelling out who should have background checks, who is responsible for requesting them and what the penalties are for failing to follow through.
A change.org petition, meanwhile, has gathered more than 6,000 signatures that call for Lake Park School District 108 to reinstate Roll, who is still teaching at the school, as coach and apologize. The petition calls on school board members to "own up to the fact that they unfairly targeted him (Roll) for their mistakes."
Further, the petition claims the failure to vet volunteers is widespread -- and that is extremely concerning. But it doesn't mean officials should let staff members who failed to follow school practices off the hook when it comes to the safety of students. If they did, what message would that send to the students they seek to teach?
The change.org petition importantly calls on school officials to "reevaluate the current system and provide a safer environment for our students, our community and Lake Park's future."
That, going forward, should be the focus. And the effort should start now.