Screening rules put on agenda

Published February 26, 2007

INVERNESS - Schools could begin screening visitors who attend music recitals and pep rallies that happen during school hours. But screenings wouldn't be necessary for evening programs and athletic events.

These are some of the guidelines that superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel and her staff want schools to follow after implementing a districtwide visitor screening program several weeks ago.

The School Board will discuss the proposed guidelines at a workshop Tuesday.

The new screening system, known as Raptor, has also put a spotlight on parents who are sex offenders.

Himmel has heard from parents, including some in the county's PTA, who don't want any sex offenders on school grounds. That includes the parents who must register as sex offenders for becoming sexually involved with a teen who could not legally give consent when they were young adults.

While she shares the concern to protect children from sex offenders, Himmel said she also understands that parents who are sex offenders have a right to participate in their child's education. She will ask board members for guidance.

Himmel and her staff developed guidelines on screening visitors after board members said last week that schools needed to know where to draw the line.

Some said that screening every visitor - volunteers, maintenance workers and law officers - was going too far. Others questioned the logic of not screening people after school hours, when a sexual predator could slip into a concert or a baseball game.

Under the proposed guidelines, every school visitor who wants to go beyond the front office must present a photo identification and clear a background check.

But the screenings wouldn't extend past regular school hours.

Himmel said it would not be feasible to keep track of everyone who comes to watch a sporting event or a school production at night. She wants everyone to share the responsibility of watching over children during evening programs.

During the school day, however, visitors would have to come through the front office, clear the screenings and wear badges.

The requirement extends to anyone on a child's emergency card, including parents and any guest who accompanies them to school.

For school functions such as assemblies and honor roll breakfasts, schools may ask parents to contact them before they arrive so the front office staff can prescreen them and print out badges.

If a visitor comes up as a sex offender, the system would alert a school administrator and a sheriff's school resource officer, who in turn would escort the person outside.

A front office clerk could also call 911 and ask for help.

Although board members have yet to weigh in, Himmel said she wants parents who are sex offenders to contact the district's human resources department and make arrangements about visiting their child's school.

"It's going to be case by case," she said, referring to which parents will have supervised access to a school.

Schools won't be required to screen employees or contract workers who have already cleared a background check at the district offices and been issued badges. Law enforcement officials will also be exempt from the screenings.

Volunteers will be screened to keep track of their location and hours but can use their own badges to get into schools.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 860-7305.

If you go

Workshop scheduled

The School Board workshop will begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the District Services Center, 1007 W Main St., Inverness.