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ACLU, School District Settle Lawsuit: Mom with Past Drug Convictions can Now Volunteer

Despite turning her life around after a battle with heroin addiction in her early 20s, the mother was barred from volunteering at her daughter's school. The district will now revise its school district volunteer policy as part of the settlement.

A Cranston mother who sued Cranston Public Schools after she was barred from volunteering at school events because of felony drug convictions in her early 20s has settled with the district and can now volunteer, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

Jessica Doyle (formerly Gianfrocco), was twice convicted for felony possession of heroin in her 20s but turned her life around after getting professional treatment. She is now a licensed chemical dependency professional and works at SSTARBirth, a residential substance abuse treatment program for pregnant and postpartum women and their children.

Her criminal record predates the birth of her daughter in 2003, the ACLU said, and she has been a devoted mother, serving as a team mom for her daughter's cheerleading team, volunteering at her day care and even has traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to Congress about drug prevention funding as part of a Brown University program.

But Doyle was blocked from volunteering at Arlington Elementary School, where her daughter attends, after the district ran a background check.

"Although she provided numerous letters of recommendation, school officials denied her application because of her criminal record," said Stephen Brown, executive director of the RIACLU. "Although Doyle was allowed to be a member of the PTO, and ultimately one of its officers, she was still prevented from helping out at certain events involving the supervision of children."

The ACLU sued the school district on behalf of Doyle and argued the district's volunteer policy was "intrusive" and "unnecessary," noting that teachers themselves aren't disqualified from employment based on a criminal record or drug-related disability. 

Under the settlment, Doyle can now volunteer at the school and the district agreed to revise its volunteer policy to prevent a similar situation from happening again by eliminating drug and other offenses as automatic disqualification from volunteering and requires the superintendent, if asked, to consider other factors when screening volunteers including date of conviction, rehabilitation and community involvements.

"This is the perfect example of why blanket prohibitions on school volunteers who have prior criminal conduct are totally unjustified. The City was never able to demonstrate any connection between passing a criminal background check and suitability to volunteer," said ACLU volunteer lawyer Carly Beauvais Iafrate. "This is a woman totally dedicated to her family, to her community, and to her recovery and who deserved to be able to extend that commitment to her daughter’s school.” 

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown added: “Stringent criminal records checks for volunteers prevent parents from actively participating in their children’s educational lives because of mistakes they made when they were younger. It is well- known that very positive benefits – to parent, child and school – flow from parental involvement in their children’s school activities. It is counter-productive to needlessly punish and stigmatize parents who have rehabilitated themselves. We are pleased that the school district recognized that.” 

For Doyle, the settlement means a lot. 

“This month, I volunteered for a viewing of The Polar Express at my daughter’s school," she said. "I was grateful to have this opportunity and excited to start making memories with her that will last a lifetime."

rgl December 30, 2012 at 06:36 AM
Hey we havefelons in office be real she isn't using selling or molesting kids. She has rights to participate with her kid Cranston resident do u know any crooked cop in Cranston we have them! They don't all have good morals! So Cranston resident leave the women alone Cranston cops need to go after child molesters and not treat victims like criminals. We have officials in office with felonies so get over your high horse. And don't hang out at the school play ground
Frank Tagliani December 30, 2012 at 10:19 AM
I have no ill will toward this woman. She is a convcited criminal and not a victim as you state. Her status as a convcited felon, should limit her involvement with other children. I commend her for turning her life around. But you are very nieve. Criminals, even "ex-criminals" may have associations that are unsafe and can put children at risk. The question is; is it worth the risk to yound children? You only have one shot. Most likely, nothing bad will come of this. Again, this woman sounds great. It's not about her, it's about the process. Will the super start allowing more convicted felons to serve out of fear of lawsuits. Now instead of a hard fast rule, you have personal judgement in State where history shows it has been lapse.
Vinnie B. December 30, 2012 at 02:03 PM
If she was convicted of a violent crime that's one thing. She was caught with a controlled substance for her own personal use and it was a bad decision on her part no doubt. She wasn't selling she wasn't committing a crime while intoxicated etc etc etc. She learned from her mistake and paid her debt as society saw fit. Keep in mind this all happened before she was even a parent. Throwing Jessica under the same blanket as convicted molesters, murderers, rapists , larcenists etc etc etc is ignorant.
rgl December 30, 2012 at 03:15 PM
This woman has a job works with people had recommendations from others in positions she made a stupid mistake when she was young. She is someone who can talk to the teens why they should n't do drugs. We have teachers who scare kids yelling in classrooms accusing children belittle them is verbal abuse can be very harmful to young children especially those with disability she isn't going to do that Cran Resident you better stay home and your family cuz that guy in church the market and at the bank may hurt you and yours
Robin Lionheart January 18, 2013 at 04:22 AM
@Mike So, you're saying because they took God out of schools, an ex-drug-abuser gets a chance to volunteer work. Because God would never stand for such forgiveness and redemption for past misdeeds, I guess.~

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