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Johnson students soon must wear photo IDs
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GAINESVILLE — Soon after the spring semester starts Tuesday, Johnson High School students will be required to wear photo identification badges or they won’t be able to attend classes.

The 1,150-student school at 3305 Poplar Springs Road in South Hall is testing out the new program for the Hall County school system, modeling much of what it will do after a photo ID program in its second year at Gainesville High School.

Damon Gibbs said in his first year as the Johnson principal he wanted to "evaluate how we did things on a daily basis — our processes and procedures — and look at possibilities for improvement."

The top issue "we deal with on a daily basis is the safety of our students," he added.

"We have a building with multiple entry points, and we can’t lock down every door in our building because our students have to go outside to go to the gymnasium (and) performing arts center," Gibbs said. "And they have to get back into the building at some point."

One of Gibbs’ fears is having people who are not students come onto the campus, something that "would be very easy to do."

"We want to ensure that the people walking through our building are students, staff members ... or visitors who have signed in appropriately," he said.

Gibbs said he consulted with Gainesville High principal Mike Kemp, among others, on the matter.

"Mike was gracious enough to share with me their ID program and how they operated that and the guidelines they use," Gibbs said.

"I was extremely impressed with how, at any time during a class change, before or after school at Gainesville High School, you could glance at a student and determine whether they are supposed to be there, what grade they’re in ... and if students are in an appropriate area of the building," he said.

Johnson badges will consist of a picture, the student’s name and grade, an ID number and a bar code for checking in and out of school, checking out books in the media center and possibly next year buying food in the cafeteria.

"Safety first, conveniences second," Gibbs said.

School officials unveiled the program last semester through announcements and a newsletter sent to parents.

Students should receive their badges Tuesday.

"We’re going to encourage them to wear them the first four days (of the spring semester) and on (Jan. 14), we’re going to make it non-negotiable," Gibbs said.

Students who leave their badges at home shouldn’t expect to get a "loaner" when they arrive at school.

"When we go non-negotiable, we will be calling parents (of those students) and having them bring IDs from home," Gibbs said.

"We’re not trying to be unreasonable with our student body. We’re trying to provide an environment that’s safe for them, where parents ... don’t have to worry about whether (their children) are safe at Johnson."

Kemp said the ID program has several purposes, including pride through identifying each grade level by a
different colored stripe.

"It breaks the four-year process of getting to the diploma down to four 10-month, manageable goals, he said.

Gil Espinoza, a 16-year-old Johnson sophomore, said the new IDs will require an adjustment period.

"Now you’re going to have to wake up every morning and (consider) where’s my new ID card," he said.

Still, he believes the increased security measure is worth the new worry.

"Last year, I know a lot of people who just came into the school, into the gym or something, and just walked around," Espinoza said.