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Are our children safe?
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We cover those precious barefooted toes with stiff, shiny shoes. We strap knapsacks, filled with colored pencils and gel pens, on their backs. And we sneak a kiss as they hop on the bus.

It’s time for back to school, and back to worry.

It’s not just grades, strangers, bullies and drugs anymore; it’s guns and bombs, too.

So what do we do? We make it easier to put basic safety measures in place.

The security that protective parents call for are often met with outcries of privacy infringement, and the hands of educators are tied behind their backs because when they try to take protective measures, they are met with protests from those who are trying to protect our civil rights. The protesters infringe on my rights as a parent to know my child is reasonably secure at school.

The idea of looking in children’s lockers, using dogs to sniff out drugs and bombs at randomly selected schools – practices Pinellas County uses now – is one trigger that sets off the civil rights bell.

Maybe it should, but such consideration has to be balanced with the reality of today’s world. The first question has to be: What can we do to keep our children safe at school, not how do we get good press by citing civil rights.

When the county talks about the integrated GPS that the 770 buses will have by the end of the year, we shouldn’t organize an uprising. It’s a global positional system that will have the capability of tracking the exact location of a bus, just like it has been doing on boats for years.

A little hotter button has been pushed with the “fingerprint signature” technology that is part of the package purchased with the GPS. Information from the students’ fingers will be stored in the computer on the bus, and checked as each child embarks.

According to the director of transportation, Terry Palmer, the information is not enough to make an actual fingerprint – just enough to match a child with the student identification number and check if the kids are on the right bus at the right time. Computer technology uses an encryption, a secret code, that can not be read back, and it runs with software owned by and accessible only by the manufacturer.

Some people don’t like the very idea of it. But contrary to what the opposition says to scare parents, the program is not set up to “find” anybody. With the fear of abusive parents showing up at the school bus stop, the School Board purchased this program specifically because of the features that make tracking impossible.

Last year, no one was happy when a crying student was found on the wrong school bus at the wrong school hours after school started last year – least of all her mother. I bet she likes the idea of a system that safeguards against “accidental boarding.”

If technology can help us, why not use it?

Likewise, the installation of a security system just like at the airport could force students to walk through a metal detector every day to enter school. This would at least decrease the likelihood of guns and knives in the classroom. We don’t mind having our personal liberty compromised to assure security in the sky. Why does it seem such a horrible specter at school?

It’s a constant balancing act, but I believe this county’s educators should be given the freedom to protect those children entrusted to them.

Mary Burrell is managing editor and editor of the Beach Beacon and Seminole Beacon.
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