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District can't be blamed for security measures



Column_headshot_JOHN_HA
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June 24, 2014 | 11:35 AM
He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Local school district Superintendent Jim Gottinger recently received some bad publicity from a parent.

The parent wanted to chaperone his child to an event, but discovered he needed to provide his Social Security number to the district so they could perform a proper background check. He felt that an alternative means of identification ought to suffice.

The parent’s ire was shared with a wild-eyed website called wisconsindailyindependent.com.

When we contacted Gottinger for a comment, he seemed a bit defensive — and understandably so.

Anyone who watches the news knows that school security is a hot button issue. Every time some horrible event occurs, fingers get pointed at what could be done better, and rules tighten up.

That’s the case in Lake Geneva, too.

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Last year a parent wanting to be involved in an organization called Watch D.O.G.S. was found to be a registered sex offender.

D.O.G.S. is an acronym for Dads of Great Students, a national organization designed in part to provide schools with male role models who greet students at school and help in various school activities. We did a positive story on them a few weeks ago.

The offense in question occurred two decades ago when the offender was a teenager. However, he was still required to notify the sex offender registry of his participation in the program. He failed to do so and was punished with probation as a result.

Then, several weeks ago a janitor at Badger High School was charged with a sexual offense toward a student.

In that case, a background check had been done but failed to turn up a prior sexual abuse allegation in another state.

Understandably, Gottinger is a little touchy about all the publicity these two events generated.

We don’t apologize for running stories on the events, but they no doubt created angst on the part of the district administration as well. That’s not all bad.

The D.O.G.S. case should have been better handled.

But it’s hard to blame the school district in the janitor case for failing to track down an abuse allegation in Washington state, especially because the man was never convicted. Even the county District Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately get details of that case.

Following the D.O.G.S. incident, the district has contracted with a national security organization to expand background checks from just employees to volunteers as well.That organization requires a Social Security number to ensure a complete investigation.

It’s unfortunate to be sure. You wouldn’t think you’d need NSA-level clearance for an innocent program like D.O.G.S., and you wouldn’t think you’d need to do a nationwide search to discover if an allegation was made about someone even if they weren’t convicted.

But that’s the way it is these days.

Most of us grew up in an era when parents could walk into schools without drawing anything more than a friendly greeting.

But each time an incident occurs more bullet proof windows get installed and more people undergo security checks.

I think Gottinger is doing what he needs to do.

If it takes a Social Security number to ensure the safety of kids, so be it.

I understand the parent’s concern. So does Gottinger.

But Gottinger’s first responsibility is the safety of children under his custodial care, not the privacy concerns of a parent.

It’s hard to argue that a superintendent has gone too far in making sure students are safe.

Parents have a choice.

They can trust that a school district and a security company will keep their Social Security number secure.

Or they can choose not to go on a field trip.

It’s a reality we all have to deal with.



Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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