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Volunteer Services

Volunteer Services

Frequently Asked Questions

The following information is subject to change. For further inquiries, please contact Volunteer Services Department at 813-272-4446.

What is a non-curriculum related student led club?
A “non-curriculum related student group” means “any student group [or club] that does not directly relate to the body of courses offered by the school” and is initiated and run by students.

What is the Equal Access Act (EAA)?
The Equal Access Act is a United States federal law passed in 1984 to compel federally funded secondary schools to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs. If a school receives federal aid and has a "limited open forum," or at least one student led non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, it must allow other like clubs the same opportunity to organize and give them equal access to meeting spaces and school publications. Exceptions can be made for groups that "materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school," and a school can technically "opt out" of the act by prohibiting all non-curriculum clubs. (SB Policy 5730).

How does a student start a club?
Student clubs are student-initiated and are not sponsored by the school itself, by teachers, by other school employees, or by government. This means that such employees and outside adults cannot promote, lead or participate in a meeting. However, a teacher or other school employee can be assigned to a group for "custodial purposes." Such custodial supervision does not constitute sponsorship or endorsement of the group by the school. EAA states non-school persons (volunteer) may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of student groups.

Who recruits for student-led clubs?
Recruitment can only be extended to students by students and attendance is voluntary.

May outside adults attend the meetings of student clubs?
Yes, students may invite visitors unless the school has a policy barring all guest speakers or outside adults from extracurricular club meetings (also known as “closed” campus). However, the EAA states that the non-school persons “may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of student groups.” As an invited guest, the adult may share personal experience, opinion, and/or personal ideology (religion). All guests must abide by all district volunteer requirements.

May students share their opinions, views, and ideology (religious/nonreligious) with others?
Yes. Students are free to share their ideology (faith/nonfaith) with their peers as long as the activity is not disruptive and does not infringe on the rights of others.

How do schools support clubs?
The EAA does not mandate a level of support that schools must give to non-curriculum groups — it merely mandates an equality of support and may go beyond just allowing groups to meet. For instance, if one non-curriculum student group is allowed to use school channels of communication (such as a school newsletter), then all groups would be allowed to use them.

What if I have questions or concerns about clubs at a school site, who do I contact?
You should contact the site administrator.

How do you define a school volunteer?
A school volunteer or community organization is any non-paid individual who gives time to a school or school staff member while performing assigned duties (School Board Policy 2430.01). School volunteering is a privilege, not a right, and a school may determine that a volunteer is not appropriate for their student population. Ultimately, the school will have supervisory responsibility for all volunteers at their school, even if they are recruited or trained by another group. In all cases, it is understood that the school has the right to deny a volunteer who is seeking to present, distribute information, or advertise at their school.

What are the screening requirements of volunteers and community based organizations?
All volunteers must complete a Hillsborough County Public School Volunteer Application and minimally a Level 1 screening for each academic school year. Level 2 screening (fingerprinting) is required for those with one-on-one unsupervised interaction with students (i.e., overnight chaperone) or as instructed. Additionally, volunteers may be required to read and sign the guidelines, policies, and assurance documents. All volunteers must attend a training/orientation session.

Are there any other documents that are required to be completed when volunteering?
Community organizations that volunteer in our district complete an agreement with the district. Depending on the nature of the partnership, additional assurances may be required outlining expectations and safeguards.

What is the dress code for volunteers?
School volunteers should dress neatly and professionally. Clothing and shoes should be comfortable and safe. As with student dress code, garments and/or jewelry that display or suggest sexual, vulgar, drug, gang, weapons, or alcohol-related wording or graphics, or that provoke or may tend to provoke violence or disruption in the school, shall not be worn. School Administrators have the authority to enforce the dress code as needed.

Are mentoring programs run by community organizations permitted in Public Schools?
Yes, provided that other community organizations are given an equal opportunity and are subject to the same selection criteria to operate such programs.

Are faith-based organizations allowed to volunteer in Hillsborough County Public Schools?
Yes. Like any responsible community organization, individuals/organizations are encouraged to become partners on the same basis as other eligible entities. The school should not reflect partiality toward the partner, regardless of the nature of the business or institution. All providers must agree to ensure that the support to schools is determined by the needs of the school, staff, and students. Content of services must be secular, neutral and non-ideological.

Who should I contact if I have questions or want to volunteer or partner with the school district?
You can contact the Volunteer Services Department at 813-272-4446.

Because of separation of church and state, does that mean that “religion” should be kept out of public schools?
Under the establishment clause, neutrality means protecting the religious-liberty rights of all students while simultaneously rejecting school endorsement or promotion of religion. By “neutrality” the Supreme Court does not mean hostility to religion nor does it mean ignoring religion.

How should I respond if students ask me specifically about my religious beliefs, personal ideology, or political views?
Some volunteers prefer not to answer the question, believing that it is inappropriate to interject personal beliefs while interacting with students. Others may choose to answer the question directly and succinctly in the interest of an open and honest conversation. Before answering the question, however, consider the age of the students. Middle and high school students may be able to distinguish between a personal conviction and the official position of the school; very young children may not. In any case, the volunteer may answer at most with a brief statement of personal belief — but may not turn the question into an opportunity to proselytize for or against religion or other personal ideology. Volunteers may neither reward nor punish students because they agree or disagree with their views. All partnerships and partnership activities must remain neutral and secular.

What if a student wants to pray or asks me to pray?
During the volunteer session with a student(s), prayer and the encouragement of religious activities with students, families and/or staff must be avoided. Out of respect for students’ rights/beliefs, the volunteer may not deny, interfere, nor encourage student prayer.

May public schools and religious communities enter into cooperative agreements to help students with such programs as tutoring?
Yes, but only if appropriate constitutional safeguards are in place. Public schools must remain neutral among religions and between religion and non-religion. For that reason, religious groups must refrain from proselytizing students during any cooperative programs with public schools. Participation or nonparticipation by students in such cooperative programs should not affect the student’s academic ranking or ability to participate in other school activities. In addition, cooperative programs may not be limited to religious groups, but must be open to all responsible community groups.

What are the guidelines on what I can or cannot talk about with a student when it comes to religion?
School volunteers should be reminded that all conversations with students should remain secular. Volunteers should not initiate prayer with students or encourage prayer, preach about faith while participating in activity, or prohibit a student from speaking about religion. Volunteers should use neutral, secular language when endorsing/promoting an event or program. Partners who wish to mentor our students or want to come on our campuses to provide donations must agree to guidelines and assurances before engaging with our schools.

Can I provide the student with information about community events/faith-based activities?
No. Assure that any and all materials for distribution are reviewed by school site administrator and/or instructional personnel. Leave all materials with the school site administrator for district approval. Distribution of materials must follow district guidelines and should not be distributed directly to students. Passive distribution of materials, which allows for students to have the option to pick up materials if they wish, is acceptable upon approval by the school site administrator. The district has a Peachjar eflyer system for our community and families. For more information on how Peachjar works, please visit the district website.

Who should I contact if I have questions or want to volunteer or partner with the school district?
You can contact the Volunteer Services Department at 813-272-4446.

Content derived in part from the First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University

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