Towanda School District puts participation in jail program on hold
TOWANDA - The Towanda School District is putting its participation in the Bradford County Community Workforce Inmate Program on hold until it can resolve the question of whether the inmates would need clearances if they work on school property, the Towanda superintendent of schools said.
At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Towanda School Board had voted to participate in the newly established Community Workforce Inmate Program, under which the county will provide non-violent inmates from the Bradford County Correctional Facility to do community service projects for school districts, municipalities and non-profit organizations.
Currently, all employees and volunteers at the Towanda School District have to have three clearances, including a state police criminal background check, an FBI clearance, and a clearance related to sexual abuse, said Diane M. Place, superintendent of schools.
However, the inmates may not need clearances, because they will be working directly for the county and not the school district, and because they will be closely supervised by a corrections officer, she said.
The county will not be providing clearances for the inmates, Towanda school officials said at the Towanda School Board meeting this week.
The school district plans to consult with its solicitor to find out if clearances are needed, and if they are, whether the school district could apply for a waiver from the state for the clearances, Place said.
The school district will also try to find out if there are any funding sources available to pay for the clearances, should they be needed, she said.
The school district may have to pay for the clearances itself, she said.
Place said that Towanda school officials are planning to consult with officials from the jail to come up with a series of projects that the inmates could do on school grounds this summer.
The school district will then submit a formal application to the county to have those projects done by inmates from the Community Workforce Inmate Program, she said.
The Bradford County commissioners and the Bradford County Prison Board would have to approve such an application, and the application would also have to be reviewed by officials from the jail, Bradford County jail Warden Donald Stewart had told the school board.
While the inmates would, with the school district's permission, be able to perform projects in school buildings, Place said the projects she has in mind for the inmates would not take place indoors.
"Anything I can think of (for the inmates to do) would take place outdoors and in the summer," she said.
Place has said she is interested in having the inmates do lawnmowing and other landscaping work.
For this year, at least, the county is providing the inmates as laborers at no charge to school districts, municipalities, or non-profit organizations, county Commissioner Mark Smith has said.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, the warden told the school board that a corrections officer would supervise the inmates at all times at the work sites, and that there would be no more than six inmates being supervised by a corrections officer.
He said there will be a policy in place that will require the inmates to be within view and earshot of the corrections officer.
The corrections officers will carry Tasers, and not firearms, he said.
The warden also said that the school district will be able to specify where the inmates can stay while at the work site.
For example, the school district would be able bar inmates from entering any school building or even from being within a certain distance of the school building, he said.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.