Where does security stop?

Administrators are increasingly hard-pressed to explain rationale behind their many rules, as they feel caught between onerous federal regulations and meeting needs of students and parents.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Schools administrators across the country are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand they are mandated to provide a stimulating environment where students can learn. On the other hand, they must have a campus where parents feel their kids are safe. At some Maryland high schools, however, the safety goal has become such a huge priority that the rules border on the extreme, reports the Washington Post.

Aside from banning iPods and cellphones, students at McKinley Technology High School aren't allowed to listen to their iPods even at lunch. However, they are permitted to watch ESPN or "The Maury Show" on the television hanging from the cafeteria ceiling.

"We can watch people fight on TV about who's the baby's father, but we just can't listen to our music. That's kind of weird," said Letia Childs, 15, a McKinley sophomore. "When we listen to our iPod, that's our world. It's calming. Everyone gets rowdy when they watch Maury. Sometimes, in our own way, we just want to do our own thing, but we're limited."

The most likely reason for increased security is that parents are worried about safety - and administrators are concerned about litigation. And the desire to limit potentially dangerous or inappropriate behaviour is growing.

"Where to start? It's getting huge," said Linda Wanner, a Blair assistant principal. "The word of the day is prevention. We're on high alert all the time."

Schools are responsible not only for student performance but also for safety and hygiene, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. At Blair High School, students must keep their backbacks of the lunch tables. "I can't think of a reason for it," said Spencer Bonar, 16.

"It's for hygienic purposes," said Wanner, the assistant principal. And about that rule that requires permission and a solid reason to go to the parking lot? "There could be any number of things out there, like alcohol," Principal Phillip Gainous said.

The zero tolerance attitude is oppressive not just to students but to principals, who must be accountable to everyone.

"A lot of principals are on pins and needles. We have one or two school shootings, and suddenly everyone wants zero tolerance. Principals are overly sensitive to the students who are in their charge," said Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "You've got one group of parents who want you to be more liberal and another group of parents who want you to be ultra-conservative."
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