New Milford school officials, at the direction of the Board of Education, have begun fingerprinting volunteers at the town's six schools.

The board had decided last May to expand its policy requiring fingerprinting -- and background checks -- of school district employees to include volunteers.

That policy expansion went too far.

There is no compelling need to subject well-meaning volunteers to fingerprinting and background checks and, presumably, keep that personal information on file.

What is the level of discovery through these methods that would trigger an educator into saying a parent or grandparent could not volunteer? A long-ago petty larceny? A speeding ticket?

Officials in many towns are extremely sensitive these days about protecting students from sexual predators, and that is understandable. But there are other and easier methods for finding sexual offenders; for example, by checking a readily accessible state database.

It is appropriate for employers to seek pertinent personal information about employees, such as thorough background checks, fingerprinting and standard practices, including drug testing.

This is expected in an employment situation. But it is not necessary or appropriate with volunteers.

At a time when school officials exhort parents to become involved in their children's education, this new policy may serve the reverse and discourage townspeople from volunteering in the schools.

Some may grumble, but volunteer anyway. Others may object to the district collecting their personal information.

Some may walk away.

Expanding the policy from employees to volunteers, though presumably well-intentioned, is ill-advised. It raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of the program, the security of personal information and the length of time it will be kept, and the impact of volunteerism in the schools.

Plus, the cost of $15.25 per person -- to be paid through the education budget -- is hardly inconsequential.

The fingerprinting and background checks of school volunteers should be repealed by the New Milford Board of Education.