Monday, September 29, 2003

Insecure security

I'm hearing a lot more talk at my kids' schools this year about heightened security and the screening of parent volunteers to guard against potential abuse of our little ones. And that's mostly all it is -- talk. At one school, my "interview" with an administrator prior to acceptance as a library volunteer amounted to a quick friendly chat over a book-fair table, and at the other the principal scanned a room of volunteers, ascertained that he knew us all, and signed off. Whereas teachers and other staff people at both schools have been required to wear photo ID at all times since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, volunteers still wander the halls undocumented -- although at my daughter's school, the librarian did whip us up some nice little non-photo nametags so we won't feel left out.

It appears that appearing to be doing something about security is more important to our school administrators at this point than actually doing something about it, and maybe that should be worrying me. Maybe I should be questioning the school board and attending seminars on abuse prevention and advocating for more rigorous protocols. Certainly we've heard enough stories lately about adults using positions of trust and proximity to harm children, and about terrorists blending in to wreak havoc. And while it's hard to imagine a parent planting a bomb at a book fair or fondling a child behind a library bookcase, unimaginable things have certainly happened before. At the same time, there's one thing I can imagine all too well: The day parents have to drive half an hour and pay $75 to be fingerprinted before volunteering, as was one school-board proposal this year, is the day most home-school activities grind to a halt.

Some of those activities might be banned as part of the look-safer agenda, anyway. It's happened at our church already, where youth group overnights are now a thing of the past. I wasn't looking forward to sending my kid to those overnights, you can be sure, but I'm still not quite so old that I can't remember how fun they sometimes were when I was their age. Lots of youth activities are going to get harder and harder to justify from a risk management perspective, and there may be a feeling that, since we can all agree that no price is too high to pay for our children's safety and that prevention is our primary focus, cutting losses and narrowing opportunities is a good and prudent course. But somehow, I can't help but feel that this is the adult equivalent of punishing the whole class just because a couple of kids made trouble.

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