In Pelham, Alabama, the school system isn't kidding around when it comes to security. According to WBRC, parents must pass a background check — which costs $15 — if they want to eat lunch with their children at school. And the rule doesn't only apply at lunchtime: it applies to anyone entering a building in the Pelham school system who isn't part of the staff. That means all volunteers, parents, and grandparents who want to go on field trips, attend class parties, or visit students must pass a $15 background check.
The new policy, which was instated this year, means a couple of things for relatives. Those that are in the country illegally might not want to undergo a background check for fear of revealing their immigrant status, and others may not afford the security check.
"Background checks would keep so many poor parents away from their kids' schools," David Price, an anthropology professor at St. Martin's College in North Carolina, told The New York Times. "We know a lot about the importance of parental involvement in anchoring low-income kids in school. When poor kids see their parents in school, they trust the place, and their academic careers take off.''
However, the superintendent of Pelham City Schools, Dr. Scott Coefield, thinks the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. "We have so much parental involvement that the question came up, 'How do we know everyone in our school is safe to be around our kids?'" he told WBRC on Thursday. He said that the school system has reduced fees for parents when it comes to the cost of background checks, but that he couldn't change rules due to some families' immigration status. "I don't make a commitment to bend the rules for people who can't get the proper documentation," Coefield said.
"There are a lot of school systems that, every time there's a field trip, they ask them to get a background check. This is a one-time fee of $15.00," explained Coefield. "Once they do it one time, they can attend as many events as they want to. And we feel like if it's important to parents — something they want to be a part of — that's not asking a whole lot."
Other schools concerned about safety, including several in Illinois and Texas, have used a visitor management system called the Raptor System. It allows schools to swipe a state ID — such as a driver's license — to check against sex offender databases instantly. When parents in Lake Travis, Texas filed a lawsuit over the policy, claiming it infringed on their right to be free of unreasonable searches and direct the upbringing of their children, a federal judge sided with the policy.
It's a contentious topic, and agreement with the safety policies vary from parent to parent. Some parents believe it's costly and discourages parental involvement, while others are all for extra safety measures when it comes to protecting their children. Judging from the increasing number of school districts taking on new security measures, however, the safety checks aren't going anywhere soon.