Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

Given security concerns that we all face, at my school we have a sign-in policy that we enforce without exception, including a requirement that visitors show photo ID. A parent of one of the students at my school, however, always likes to push the limits. Recently, he informed the secretary in the main office that he will not be signing in in the future. He called our procedure “kabuki” and said that showing photo ID is ridiculous because everyone knows who he is. His diatribe went on with the observation that the schools are public buildings and that he, as a member of the public, has the right to enter the public’s buildings whenever he wants. That last point is ridiculous, but his comments on the whole photo ID thing got me to thinking. Since we do in fact know this parent (better than most, sadly, because he is so obnoxious), it does seem a bit ridiculous for the secretary to require that he fish out his photo ID every time he visits. What say you?

Better Safe than Sorry?

Dear Safe:

You can tell this parent that Legal Mailbag says he is wrong. Of course his point about the school as a public building simply being open to the public is ridiculous. However, he is also wrong in claiming that sign-in procedures (including photo ID) must only be followed when they are necessary.

In these times, it is imperative that we have security procedures in place for visitors to enter schools and other buildings where the public’s business is done. It is also imperative that we follow those procedures. As you probably recall from your school law class, liability can be imposed when one fails to take reasonable action and someone is harmed as a result. When we establish procedures, we perforce establish expectations as to what actions are reasonable. If we then fail to follow those procedures, our actions are per se unreasonable, and we will be liable if anyone is ever harmed as a result.

Applying these concepts to the sign-in procedure, we can well conclude that photo ID is necessary. While the regular staff may well recognize certain parents, there will be times when a substitute is covering, and a standard procedure will assure that visitors are properly identified in every case. Moreover, deviation from the procedures puts staff in a bad spot in two different ways. First, it would then force staff to make ad hoc judgments as to whom they recognize adequately and whom they do not. Second, by making those decisions, staff will then be treating some visitors one way and others differently, which could invite a claim of discrimination. Emerson did write that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” but here consistency is anything but foolish.