All Visitors Please Report to the School Office

By Mark Walsh — September 02, 2009 2 min read
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A sign with some variation of the above message is posted at many schools, where rules require visitors to check in.

At Bee Cave Elementary School, in the Lake Travis Independent School District in Texas, not only must parents and other visitors check in at the office, they must show their driver’s license so school officials may conduct a background check for sex offender status. Under a school district regulation, visitors who refuse to provide the information necessary for a background check are not permitted access to “secure” areas of the school, such as hallways and classrooms.

Parents Larry and Yvonne Meadows sued the district over the identification policy. In the fall of 2006, the mother had several run-ins with administrators over the policy, and her license information was never entered into the search system. It appears the family’s objections were purely a matter of principle.

The family’s suit raised several federal and state law claims, including that the policy interfered with their Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and their 14th Amendment substantative-due-process right to direct the upbringing of their children.

A federal district judge on Aug. 18 issued a summary judgment in favor of the the school district.

“The crux of the plaintiffs’ claims is their belief they possess a constitutional right to be physically present with their children in the classroom to supervise their children’s education,” said the opinion by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin, Texas. But there is no substantive due-process right of a parent to access all areas of her child’s school, the judge held.

“The district clearly has a rational basis for requiring compliance with its policy, namely maintaining the safety and security of its schools and students,” Judge Sparks said.

The judge’s decision in Meadows v. Braxdale is highlighted on the Web site of Raptor Technologies Inc. The Lake Travis school district uses the company’s system to conduct the sex-offender background check on visitors, so the company was understandably happy to spread the news of the judge’s decision.

According to Judge Sparks’s opinion, Raptor checks the names of school visitors against all U.S. sex offender databases. It also replaces sign-in sheets with a visitor ID badge system.

A footnote: Judge Sparks noted that since the dispute in Lake Travis, the Texas Legislature has amended the state education code to authorize school districts to demand identification from visitors and to search any sex-offender database accessible to them.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.