MARCO ISLAND — Fortunately a severe crisis has never occurred at a Marco Island school. If it did or if a child went missing, law enforcement officials say they don’t have all the information they might need to save lives.
Many people have asked Marco Island Charter Middle School officials for parent contact information and some understood the safety concerns in releasing them— but is providing law enforcement officials with the information a risk to students?
Marco Island Police Chief Thom Carr doesn’t think so.
Police Officer Jennifer Lofy, a youth relations officer, requested a list of student names, addresses and phone numbers on behalf of the police department. The information was requested and received from Tommie Barfield Elementary and Marco Island Charter Middle School last year.
“This is a life-safety issue. When we have missing, injured kids it is imperative that we can contact parents or guardians ASAP,” Carr said.
“The excuse is that it is in the hands of the school board lawyers. The same info was requested from TBE and denied. My question is what happened since last year to stop providing this vital information?”
Despite numerous attempts to get answers from Collier County School District officials, Marco Island Charter Middle School Principal George Abounader and school board members on the issue, this reporter still has the same question as the police chief and Collier County Sheriff’s Office officials.
Acting Sgt. Matt Reichard, a youth relations officer with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, reported similar problems obtaining information from the Marco Island schools this year, but said he works with other schools and continues to be able to obtain the information.
“I met with the principal of the Charter School and he said it was in the hands of the school board attorneys. It was just a formality,” Reichard said.
The information could be obtained other ways, he said, but it’s safer to have the hard copy roster, which is in a format that allows law enforcement to find what they are looking for more quickly than going through one of the school computers when an emergency is in progress.
“We haven’t ever had to use it, thank goodness ... It’s just something I think we need,” Reichard said.
Collier County School District Spokesman Joe Landon made several attempts to get answers on behalf of the reporter.
“We will certainly work with the police department when there is a need for student contact information in the event of emergency, public safety or criminal issues, but it is not our practice to release confidential student directory information otherwise. There is no real basis for giving it out,” Landon said after seeking information from the district’s legal counsel.
When asked why the guidelines might be different on Marco than in other areas of the county, Landon said he would check back with attorneys on the issue and hoped to have better answers Tuesday.
As of press time, the answers remained unclear.
It’s more than just law enforcement concerned about the issue.
“As a parent, I would want my local police and first responders to have my child’s name, age, parental or guardian contact information, and similar classmate data. Such information could be invaluable in a school emergency lock-down crisis, adverse weather event, accident situation or a missing child,” said City Councilman Frank Recker, who also applied for a seat on the Marco Island Charter School board.
Recker sought to bring transparency to the school and raised eye brows among school officials who were concerned that it was an insult to request information and that new candidates were infiltrating the board to bring a charter high school to Marco.
Parent candidate Mario Sanchez, who sought parent e-mail addresses, was once a proponent for the high school, but maintains that he wanted to help start a school newspaper. He has since withdrawn his request for contact information, but said he fears the reasons for not sharing information with law enforcement may not be in the interest of students and parents.
“The police maintain these lists protected, confidential and secure and do not share them with any outside source, said Recker.
“The school’s refusal to release this information to the police should raise legitimate concerns for parents. It also increases the potential liability to schools if the failure to disclose this information results in injury to a child, or worse,” he added.
The slate of charter school board candidates, including Recker, Sanchez, parent Norka Malberg and current President Jim Reinders, are to be approved by the board at a meeting scheduled 6 p.m., Thursday.