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Badge, Please? Schools Turn to IDs to Enhance Security

School Administrators Center

While many school districts have policies requiring visitors to sign in and wear a badge while in a school, some schools are choosing to issue photo identification badges to all staff as well. Administrators say badges allow them to know at a glance who is who, and adds an extra feeling of security to buildings. Included: A description of several schools identification badge procedures.

You are an elementary school teacher who glances out the classroom door one day to see a man dressed in camouflage gear and carrying a gun as he walks down the hallway.

Cause for concern? And how.

In this case, fortunately, the man turned out to be a conservation officer visiting a classroom. But the incident led to procedural changes in the Indiana school district where it occurred. Not only are doors locked, but all visitors and staff members must wear identification badges.

For years, it has been common practice in many districts for school visitors to sign in when they arrive at a building and receive a badge to wear during their stay. Some districts and schools, though, now are issuing identification badges to all school staff members -- and even students -- to keep better tabs on who belongs on campus.

Some schools want to make sure everyone on campus has a legitimate purpose, said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center a school safety consulting firm. If people dont have badges, they dont belong in school. Badges are another management tool for campus access and control.

Before You Pass Out Photo IDs

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, has some tips for districts or schools considering identification badges:

  • If the administration is mulling requiring badges or ID cards, the reasons for them need to be thoroughly explained to staff, parents, and students. Explain that it is to enhance safety and security.

  • When a district or school decides to use ID cards or badges, issue them to both staff and students. It gives everyone on campus an official capacity; it affirms everyone belongs there, and staff is much more likely to control access, said Stephens. It makes a non-student or intruder feel really out of place.


    Several administrators told Education World they adopted ID badges over the past few years as part of an effort to upgrade security; some changes were spurred by school shootings. The recent terrorist attacks, child abductions, and child custody battles have heightened administrators security consciousness.

    My greatest fear is that I will have to tell a parent that his or her child is missing, said Patricia Hansen, principal of Vista Grande School in Danville, California, where all adults must display ID badges. The kids know if they see an adult without a badge, they are supposed to tell another adult right away.

    Vista Grande, a K-5 school, has required badges for staff for the past eight years, since Hansen arrived. Students also have ID cards, which double as library cards.

    Its purely a safety issue, Hansen said of the ID cards. It also shows that school is an important place. You cant go into labs without badges, because they are important places. Well, school is an important place, too.

    When several people entered the school a few years ago and stole credit cards from classrooms, staff members knew immediately that they did not belong in the school and notified police.

    Besides enhancing school safety, badges can create a feeling of unity among staff and students, Hansen added.

    For other administrators, global events prompted them to take action. We had concerns about things happening in the world and in education, said LeRoy Fulmer, assistant superintendent for curriculum design and instruction for the Waynesville (Missouri) School District. ID badges were instituted for high school staff and students six years ago and three years ago for middle school students and faculty. Even before (student shootings at) Columbine (High School), we felt we needed a higher level of security, Fulmer told Education World. The policy has allowed staff to quickly identify people who were in the school building without authorization, he added.

    A shooting rampage by two students at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 that left 11 students and two staff members dead spurred administrators in the Branson, Missouri, school district to re-examine their security policy, and staff and student ID badges became part of the new plan. Identification also is important because of the high turnover in the school system, due to the local tourism industry.

    Everyone knows at a glance who is official, said Branson superintendent Lee Orth about using badges. Its a quick way to know who is who.

    The school district issues lanyards in the school colors so staff and students can wear the badges around their necks.

    Orth also knows staff members take the policy seriously. One evening, Orth asked a custodian to let him into a band room in one of the schools, and the custodian refused -- because Orth had forgotten his ID and the custodian did not recognize him.

    When another staff member apologized to Orth the next day, he waved it off. I said dont apologize; thats exactly what is supposed to happen.


    In other cases, on-campus incidents prompted procedural changes. Staff members at an elementary school in the Metropolitan School District of Mt. Vernon (Indiana) were the ones shaken a few years ago by the appearance in their hallways of the camouflaged conservation officer.

    That incident, which took place a year before superintendent Dr. C. Keith Spurgeon came on board, prompted him to make changes. Besides locking doors, we required ID badges for all staff, which need to be worn at all times, Spurgeon told Education World. It helps in an emergency to identify who belongs where.

    The Plano, Texas, School District introduced ID badges for central administrators after a person entered a building and threatened some staff members, said Carole Greisdorf, special assistant to the superintendent. All district personnel are required to wear badges. While one high school requires students to wear badges, the other two high schools issue ID cards. I just think weve all become more security conscious, Greisdorf said.


    The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the U.S., has not taken a position on staff ID badges, but is listening for any feedback from its members, according to Richard Verdugo, senior research scientist for the NEA. We would back whatever members feel would make school safe, Verdugo told Education World. Our preference would be to use (security) strategies that research has proven effective. But if members feel comfortable with ID badges, so be it.

    Spurgeon, the Indiana superintendent, said he views staff badges as regrettable but necessary. In a way, I hate to have people wear badges, Spurgeon told Education World. We like to think of schools as warm, friendly places, and heres another thing that makes them more institutional. To make staff badges more attractive, they are printed in school colors with the school crest, he said. We tried not to make them look like FBI badges.

    For Hansen, the Danville, California, principal, requiring badges for people who work around children makes as much sense as requiring them for other professions. What do we want to be most protective of? she asked.