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Other Views

By Eileen Y. Ono

Saturday, June 3, 2000

Being careful
about school visits

THE aloha spirit at Ewa Beach Elementary School is alive and very well. And, for this reason, I must respond to the May 17 letter from J. Oakshot of Fresno, Calif. She identified herself as a former Ewa Beach Elementary teacher who visited our administration office one day while on vacation in the islands, and who claims to have been turned away cold turkey.

I'm disappointed with the content and tone of her letter because of the incompleteness and inaccurate reporting of the actual occurrence.

That former teacher did come to the office with her husband, identifying herself and stating she would be take some photographs on campus. Her visit was during school hours, however, when the children were still there.

My secretary informed her that photo-taking could not be allowed at this time. However, the former teacher was told that if she wanted to return at the end of the day, after students had gone home, she was welcome to do so. Or she could return the following day, when I would be back at school.

Since the former teacher said she would be leaving the islands in an hour and could not return, my secretary had no alternative but to deny her request. She left in a huff. (It's interesting the visitor apparently had not left the islands that day, as she had a chance to meet with another former local teacher the next day.)

Had the visitor just wanted to visit the campus, she would have been allowed to do so. Then we would have followed standard operational procedures: having her sign in, providing her with a visitor's tag, alerting the custodians that she would be walking around the campus and having someone accompany her on the walk.

Every year, at the outset of the school term, photo/video release forms are completed by each parent/guardian. This release provides the school and anyone else permission to take pictures and video shots of our students.

This is in accordance with the individual's privacy rights and we at the school must comply with this law. Even during schoolwide programs, we need to be careful as to which students are included in video shots and photographs.

As tedious a task as it is, we need to ask each teacher which student did not complete release forms and which cannot be photographed or videoed, and take photos accordingly.

Recently, especially within the past two months, we have been especially careful regarding visitors to campus. We have been conducting lockdown and bomb threat drills in addition to the usual fire drills, due to the rash of tragic school incidents occurring throughout the nation.

The state Department of Education's Safety and Security Section has requested that schools be alert to any strange and unusual situations, and we are doing our best to do so, for the safety and security of all our students and adults on campus.

Our school has had numerous mainland and local visitors. No one has been turned away without a good reason, including Child Protective Services workers who request to see specific students. Without proper identification, though, they are not allowed access to the students.

People who claim to be parents/relatives of specific students and request to see them must also be checked out. If our records do not include their names, they cannot visit with the students.

OUR job at the school level is a tough one. We are not only responsible for providing the students with the best possible education, we are also responsible for assuring that their learning environment is safe, secure and nurturing.

No one, students nor adults, should have to come to campus wondering whether their day is going to be a safe one; they should know that it will be.

We in the administration building are on the front line of public communication and contacts. We extend our aloha to the public and work to assure that all is well each day.

I hope that the former Ewa Beach Elementary teacher has another opportunity to visit the school, now that she has a better understanding of why certain operational procedures need to be followed.

Eileen Y. Ono is principal of Ewa Beach Elementary School.

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