Connecticut School District Struggles with Visitor Background Check Dilemma

By Michael Klazema on 10/21/2014

Schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut are considering a new visitor background check policy, but there are positive and negative aspects to the proposal. Like other visitor background checks implemented at schools throughout the country, the system being proposed for Bridgeport is a screening system that would instantly search through a parent or visitor's criminal history. Visitors with no red flags on their record would then be given a special photo ID visitor badge and permitted to enter a school building.

On the surface, this all sounds great, particularly since the city has said that the main goal is to keep sex offenders or other potentially dangerous criminals outside of school buildings. Add the fact that flash background checks are quick, convenient, and thoroughly painless, and it's tough to see why there is any question of whether or not Bridgeport will implement the new checks.

The chatter in the community, though, is that parents aren't happy with the prospect of the school digging around in their pasts, or keeping information about them on record. There is so much chatter, in fact, that Bridgeport is worried that the new background check system would alienate many parents and keep them from visiting and participating at school. This would have a negative impact on children, who would not have as many opportunities for field trips and other parent involvement.

Much of the money that could go toward implementing these flash background checks comes from a state grant, which was passed to promote school security following the tragedy of Sandy Hook in December 2012. But some parents are convinced that the money should be spent on employing more security guards at schools, or outfitting buildings with more security cameras. Already, in the wake of Sandy Hook, most schools have upped their security staff, locked doors, installed buzzer entry systems, and more.

It's possible that some Bridgeport citizens feel as if background checks wouldn't really protect kids, as anyone truly bent on hurting kids would find a way to get into the school building, with or without a volunteer badge. With more security guards and cameras, schools would have a better chance of fighting back against shooters and other threats, or of quickly summoning the authorities to rectify the situation.

However, while there are valid arguments against flash background checks, fear of parent alienation should not be the one that dissuades Bridgeport schools from implementing such a system. Any parent who has something to hide, or who is not willing to go through a quick background check for the safety of his or her child, is not someone who should be working with children or wandering around a school building anyway.

Perhaps the best thing that the school can do is to establish a policy that lets parents with criminal offenses from 10 or 20 years ago volunteer in spite of those offenses. That way, ex-offenders who have rebuilt their lives (or are in the process of doing so) would not be barred for life against seeing their kids in school. The solution is not to simply bend to the arguments of parents who don't want to be inconvenienced by going through a background check or parents who think that a system in place to keep their kids safe is an infringement of privacy.


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