Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 6:56 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 6:56 a.m.
Under Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law, a citizen is supposed to be able to walk into a meeting of a public body to watch the proceedings without revealing their identity to anyone.
But not at the Polk County School Board.
To get into the School District’s main office in Bartow, which is where the School Board meets, residents have to show a driver license or state-issued identity card.
Then the person has to wear a sticker with their picture on it.
The ID scan is to identify sex offenders and predators by checking with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database, Ledger reporter Rick Rousos wrote about district officials’ explanation for the practice.
They didn’t mention the purpose of the name tags.
Fred Murphy, district assistant superintendent for support services, told Rousos that if someone has an arrest warrant for a sex crime, the employee using the scanner is to notify police officers who are providing security for the meeting.
Only sex crimes are searched for, Murphy said.
And the district argues that the ID check is needed to gain entrance to the building, not the meeting.
Wes Bridges, the School District’s lawyer, said license checks are “not unreasonable.”
“We haven’t had anybody shot,” he said.
It is hard to reconcile a desire to provide security at a meeting with a identity check which targets only sex offenders.
What the identity check doesn’t do is discover if someone bringing a firearm or a knife or a bomb into the building.
If district officials were truly concerned about security, they would replace the ID scanner with a metal detector such as they have nearby in the Polk County Courthouse.
And why do district officials need to tag and label every person who wishes to attended a School Board meeting?
This isn’t a meet-and-greet at a convention, in which the participants wander around the room introducing themselves.
People are supposed to be able to attend board meetings for any reason — curiosity if nothing else — without having to become part of a permanent data base kept by the School Board.
Murphy told Rousos that those computer files are encrypted,
But those files are public record — and if someone wants access to them, the School District has no legal authority to deny them.
The whole system is an absurdity.
The chances of someone not attending a School Board meeting because they have to show identification is small, unless, of course, they are a wanted sex offender.
But that is not the point.
The point is the apparent paranoia on the part of the Polk County School District.
The ID scan does not provide security to either School District employees or Board members. All it does it put on the record who has entered the building and attended board meetings.
Why does the district need to know that?
If someone does shoot up a board meeting, it would make the criminal easier to identify.
But as Bridges pointed out, no one has done that yet.
And if the officials are concerned about that, they need security, not an ID scanner.