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School Board OKs photo ID badges

September 08, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Despite protests from a former principal and its student representative, the Washington County Board of Education is moving forward with plans to issue photo identification badges to all employees.

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The School Board unanimously accepted the low bid for a computer-based photo ID system during its Tuesday business meeting. The action formally endorsed Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.'s plan to give badges to about 3,000 workers.

Before the vote, retired Boonsboro High School Principal Joe Robeson called ID badges "window dressing" and told the board they will not make schools any safer.

Sarah McDonald, the student representative on the School Board, said too many security measures can be oppressive.

McDonald, a senior at Williamsport High School, cannot participate in board votes but she is allowed to express opinions.

Bartlett said the badges will make schools safer. These are unique times and years ago he would not have believed such things would be considered, he said.

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Bartlett lamented the violence of school shootings such as the April 20 Littleton, Colo., massacre that have dominated headlines. "The innocence of our schools has been taken away from us," he said.

During the summer, the School Board solicited bids for a portable, easy-to-use system that would capture and store digital images of employees. Plans are to photograph employees at the county's 46 schools and at the Central Office on Commonwealth Avenue.

Badges will be issued before January, Bartlett said. They will be given to new employees, including substitute teachers, as they join the school system, and taken from those leaving the system. A database of photos, names and other information will be maintained.

South Hagerstown High School is issuing photo IDs to its students using a similar system. It is the only county school giving students badges.

Larry Allen & Company, Inc. of Hagerstown donated the badges to South High. The company also submitted a low bid of $12,600 plus approximately 50 cents per ID card for its employees.

Robeson, who was Boonsboro High's principal for 20 years, said he asked several people how the badges will make schools safer. "Nobody has an answer, other than it will make people feel better," he told the School Board.

School employees told him they feel pressure to do something, he said. Robeson suggested administrators should get to know students and employees instead.

The badges won't stop a shooter, he said. "These efforts don't address people who have no respect for laws or rules," and paying for the ID system is not a wise use of public money, he said.

"It will make people feel safer but it won't actually make them be safer. I would like you to rethink the whole idea before you vote on it," he said.

McDonald said her school is safe without IDs. "Everybody in my building knows who belongs there without having to wear badges," she said. Students can begin to feel as though they're in jail when schools are fenced and locked and police are on patrol, she said.

"There's only so much you can do before you start to make the students feel uncomfortable," McDonald said.

Bartlett said his son is McDonald's age and protective parents sometimes overreact for good reasons.

Board member Andrew Humphreys said security is sometimes increased by the perception of security. The ID badge can be a symbol of safety, he said.

"If it doesn't work, we can always reassess it," said board member Herbert J. Hardin.

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