Increased fears over campus safety have led two District 11 high schools to require that their students wear photo identification cards in plain view this year, even if it means suspending students who refuse to display their cards.
Wasson and Palmer high schools are both requiring their student populations to display photo ID tags at all times during school hours. The D-11 Board of Education has allowed individual schools to decide whether they want to require visible IDs, said district spokesman John Leavitt. The tags help teachers and administrators identify students who belong at the school.
Jefferson County, which counts Columbine High School among its schools, introduced a similar program this year but was met with a firestorm of protest from students and parents. One of the district's arguments was that visible identification tags could potentially prevent a shooting rampage similar to the one that occurred last year at Columbine.
The Columbine shooters, however, were actually students there, parents pointed out, and photo ID tags would have made no difference. Students argued that the IDs were uncool, and they felt squeamish about having everyone at school able to identify them by name.
However, parents here seem to be more accepting of the new program, the local principals say.
"I've gotten all of one call from a parent," said Palmer Principal Jay Engeln. That parent accused school officials of having a knee-jerk reaction to what happened at Columbine, he said. But for the most part, students have been cooperative.
"We have lots of security, and the IDs just make it safer," said Deborah Davis, a Wasson junior.
Of course, students have no choice but to comply. Both Palmer and Wasson have adopted a zero tolerance policy requiring the identification tags be worn during school hours. Students who are not wearing the IDs are detained, and if they do not have their school IDs in a pocket or backpack, they are issued temporary cards.
If they continue to resist compliance, they could be asked to go home to get their ID or be disciplined with detention or community service. At the extreme, non-conforming students could be suspended or expelled from school.
"I would hope the chances are minimal for that," said Engeln.
Wasson Vice Principal George Stone readily conceded that visible ID tags would have made no difference in averting the Columbine shooting. But, he said, "it's a fact that schools across the country responded (to Columbine) by trying everything they could think of to prevent a tragedy."
So far this school year, Stone has apprehended three kids who did not belong at the school, but were just hanging around.
Video cameras have been installed inside and outside all D-11 high and middle schools. Also, cops, called "school resource officers," are assigned to each high school and drug-sniffing dogs are brought in on a random basis, said Leavitt.
Both Stone and Engeln noted that the added security measures are not the only tools for improving school safety. Teachers and administrators, they said, also need to focus on developing mutually respectful alliances with their students.
Stone said the students' biggest complaints over the ID tags come from the male population.
"It smacks of 'Establishment,' and some of the guys are having a problem with them because they're kind of pink," he said. "We're trying to get them in touch with their sensitive side."
Seriously, he said, some of the students are certainly against wearing the IDs, because they are uncool. But many kids have adopted their own fashion statements for the tags by attaching them to their nose rings or earrings or fashioning them on 4-foot long chains, he said.
The program was actually launched at Wasson last school year, but without much success, Stone said. The students simply wouldn't wear the IDs and after a while, school officials gave up.
"You pick the battles that you can win, and the students won the war of attrition last year" Stone said. "Frankly, we just petered out."
This year, the program is mandatory, he said.
Both Engeln and Stone said the identification tags also have another use. The visible tags are much like the Dilbert-like identification tags worn by employees at some companies. Having students wear them, they said, helps prepare them for their futures in the working world.
However, the main reason for the visible tags is as a tool to improve safety and distinguish those who belong -- and those who don't.
"Altogether there were too many people from off campus wandering on campus," Leavitt said. However, the District 11 spokesman could not provide a specific number of non-students who have been apprehended trespassing on school grounds, as those records are not kept, he said.
"We don't need to have solid numbers from our point of view," Leavitt said. Sometimes you can make solid decisions based on anecdotes."