South High students must show photo IDs

September 02, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Students at South Hagerstown High School are required this year to display photographic identification cards, making it the only public school in the Tri-State area to take that step.

The main purpose of the badges is to make it easier to keep track of attendance, according to Assistant Principal Johnetta Neal.

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"We want to know who's here, who's coming and who's going," she said.

When students arrive late or leave early, they swipe the cards through a bar code reader. The computer prints a pass and records the entrance or exit, tracking how many minutes of school a student has missed.

The badges also serve another purpose.

"With 800 students, you don't know everyone," said Neal. "It is also a safety and security measure."

The computer shows a digital photograph when the card is scanned. A school employee monitors the station, reducing the chance of fraud.


The system has been paid for mostly by donations. For example, Hagerstown photographer Larry Allen is taking the photos and giving the ID cards free. The School Board's Student Services Department donated the software, Neal said.

The Washington County Board of Education plans to issue all of its approximately 2,900 employees photo IDs this fall. South High is the only county school issuing them to students.

"To me, it's a good thing," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. Some South High students agreed, but others say the cards are unnecessary.

Sophomore Jason Wilt said the cards will get tardy students into class quicker. In the past, students who were late for school often had to wait in lines as employees recorded tardiness by hand.

"I like it so far," he said.

But sophomore Rebecca Brooks said no one she has talked with likes the new system.

"I think it's kind of extreme, considering we've never had any big acts of violence," she said. "I don't really like it. It's kind of prison-like."

School districts across the Tri-State area use identification cards for various reasons, but none but South High requires students to display them.

In some Frederick County, Md., schools, students get photo IDs as part of a portrait package, according to spokeswoman Diane Nelson. The district does not require students to get, carry or wear the cards.

In Pennsylvania, Chambersburg Area Senior High School students have had photo IDs for several years, according to Principal Dennis Hillwig. Students must carry the cards but do not have to wear them. "It's something we are considering," Hillwig said.

In the Greencastle-Antrim district, students use identification cards at the school library. Director of Secondary Education Jack Appleby said a safety committee is considering additional measures.

"We don't want to knee-jerk," he said. "We want to be methodical and very thorough in our process."

In West Virginia, Morgan County school students at one time used photo IDs to get hot lunches, but that practice ended three years ago, Assistant Superintendent Gary Van Horn said.

Jefferson County schools are issuing photo IDs to employees but not students.

South High is tightening its attendance rules. Students who miss too many days will not be eligible for extracurricular activities, including sports and student government.

To participate in an extracurricular event such as a band concert, students must be present the day before and the day after the event. Parents will be notified when students miss three, six and nine days of school.

Principal Michael Shockey said the new ID system will crack down on tardiness and absenteeism. Administrators can nip an attendance problem in the bud and prevent a pattern from developing, he said.

South High's attendance rate last year was 92.8 percent. Among county high schools, it was the next-to-worst rate. Washington County Technical High School had 92.7 percent attendance for the year.

Shockey said some of his sophomores have missed the equivalent of two years of school since kindergarten. "With kids with poor attendance patterns, that's not unusual," he said.

It's important to teach future workers the value of being prompt, he said. It's the first thing businesses want from schools. The business community says, "They've got to be here, be here on time and be ready to work,'" Shockey said.

The same is true for school. "We can't educate you if you're not here," Neal said.

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