Friday, August 24, 2007

safer, smafer

In Florida they have a law named for Jessica Lunsford, the poor girl attacked and killed by a neighbor, a repeat offender, a kind of scum lower than whale poop. In response to this attack (which did not take place on school grounds during a busy school day by a school contractor, let's remember) the Florida legislature has created a law requiring anyone who is paid to come to a school to be fingerprinted and have a background check.

Okay, so far. Sounds fair. Sex criminals shouldn't hang with kids. Makes sense.

Except these fingerprints have to be taken in the county where the work is to be done or a certified location elsewhere. Oh, there is NOT ONE certified place to have fingerprints taken in OH and sent to FL. PA either. TX has one, but only in Dallas. And the background checks are country specific, meaning you can't get statewide permission to visit schools, it's on a county by country basis. $85 a print.

Besides, getting a background check in OH is useless since OH can only check OH offenders and FL can only check FL offenders and never the twain databases shall talk to one another. Wasn't Homeland security supposed to do something about this? Pedophiles never move, presumably, to do their dirty work? Oh, there's a federal database, but that only tracks federal crimes, which pedophilia is not (unless the offender crosses state lines with the kid AND gets caught).

And this law only applies to paid contractors of the school. This means if you come in to repair the copy machine or (just say) provide a poetry assembly, you need to have the background check. If you volunteer in the library or to chaperon an overnight trip, you do not.

What?

A person could volunteer to spend the night with a group of kids on a field trip and NOT get a background check, but a different person needs one to do an assembly for 400 kids?

Now every school district has had to hire a full-time person to monitor these background checks on the paid contractors. These employees must have the patience of an acorn or limitless refills on their meds to put up with irate contractors calling to try and figure out complex systems designed by the wonderful folks who brought you the tax laws, complete with commensurate sections and sub-sections. One more salary not going to educate kids.

The good news is that other state legislatures are so worried about being viewed as negligent in protecting kids from dangerous (say) poets who come to deliver programs to large groups of kids that they are in fact racing to put their own state-specific, non-comprehensive background check laws on the books.

None of which would have saved Jessica.

These laws mirror the complex entry systems designed and sold to schools that harried school secretaries bypass with a little buzzer. Think about it. Other than the Chechnyan rebels, has there ever been a school shooting perpetrated by anyone who would have not been buzzed in?

The fact is, danger for kids most often lurks among those they know. A fact that has never stopped private enterprise from making a killing off of systems purchased by nervous institutions. Gee, I'm feeling safer already.

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