State Dept. Proposes Expanded Safety Measures for Secondary School Exchange Programs
The Department of State (DOS) has proposed new program administration requirements for the secondary school student exchange program. The proposed regulations govern DOS-designated exchange visitor programs under which foreign secondary school students (ages 15 to 18½) may study in the U.S. at accredited public or private secondary schools for an academic semester or an academic year while living with American host families or residing at accredited U.S. boarding schools. The Department proposes to amend existing regulations regarding the screening, selection, school enrollment, orientation, and quality assurance monitoring on behalf of student participants; and the screening, selection, orientation, and quality assurance monitoring of host families and field staff.
Via the proposed rule, DOS is soliciting public comments regarding these proposed changes, which the agency said are intended “to address the need for greater clarity in current existing regulatory language,” and “to better protect the health, safety, and welfare of these participants [through] enhanced clarity of existing regulations.” Due to the academic calendar and the screening and selection cycle for the secondary school student program, the comment period of this proposed rule has been set at 30 days, ending on June 2, 2010.
“Concerns regarding the safety and welfare of [the] secondary school student population necessitate a shorter comment period,” DOS said. “To provide sponsors with sufficient time to prepare for implementation of changes in program administration to be effective in the academic year 2011/2012, the Department would like to accelerate this rulemaking.”
DOS noted that although a majority of the Department’s nearly 28,000 annual exchanges of secondary school students result in positive experiences for both the exchange students and the U.S. host families, a number of recent incidents with respect to student placement and oversight “demand the Department’s immediate attention.”
Without elaborating on the incidents, DOS outlined 16 measures that the agency believes will enhance the safety and welfare of foreign secondary school students studying in the U.S. The measures include requiring photographs of potential host family homes; personal character references for host family applicants; confirmation of host family incomes by program sponsors using objective information; and expanding background checks of adult host family members to include a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-based criminal background check and a check of the National Sex Offender Registry.
DOS noted that Congress’s Child Safety Pilot Program, which provides youth-serving volunteer organizations with access to the FBI’s criminal history database, has found that of the nearly 69,000 volunteers screened during the pilot, more than 6 percent had criminal records of concern, and more than 41 percent of those with criminal records of concern had committed crimes in states other than where they were applying to volunteer, meaning that only a nationwide check would have caught those records.