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In response to recent school shootings and an an increase in students who do not attend Montgomery High School coming onto campus, administrators at the Santa Rosa high school are poised to implement a new policy requiring all students and teachers to wear fully visible identification badges while on campus.

Montgomery Principal Laurie Fong said the requirement would help staff quickly identify nonstudents and help first responders know who belongs on campus in case of an emergency.

A notice was sent to students and families about the new requirement this summer and on Friday Fong and Assistant Principal Kimberly Clissold held the first of three "town hall" meetings to answer questions from students.

Fong said she would not be doing her job if she "did not do every single thing I can do to keep our campus as safe as possible."

Implementation could be as soon as next month, but Fong said Friday the process could take longer. The badges and lanyards would be provided free, but students would have to pay to have lost badges replaced.

"Is this ID badge policy a done deal? I'm going to tell you it's not," she told about 100 students who attended a voluntary meeting Friday to pose questions about the new policy.

"I want to hear what they think. I want them to hear why we are doing this," she said. "For me, it's about their understanding."

"We are listening," she said. "Not always in a school can we be democratic, but we want this to be democratic."

More meetings, and a student poll, are scheduled for next week. Emails have been sent to families and information on the policy is on the school website.

Reaction among students on Friday was mixed, but students expressed appreciation that the new rule was being debated before implemented.

"I think (Fong) would respect what the students have to say," said sophomore Violet Johnson.

Still, Johnson said she's not yet sold on the idea.

"It definitely makes a lot of sense and I think it's a good idea. I just think our school will have a hard time enforcing it," she said. "I think we should have it on hand rather than around our neck."

But Fong said that in the chaotic moments that could follow a violent incident on campus, first responders would be helped by visual aids as to who is a Montgomery student and who is not.

"Sandy Hook scared me to death," Fong said of the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six staff members were killed by a man who came onto campus.

"This is not going to stop a shooter. As awesome as it is, it is not going to stop a bullet," Fong told students Friday morning, holding up her own ID badge. "It is just one more little edge in case something ever happens."

Officials said ID badges are a more logical step than funding a perimeter fence or installing metal detectors that are in place in other high schools across the country.

"We really do need to ask those questions all of the time: 'What can we do?' This is something we can do," Clissold said.

Montgomery, along with many campuses in Santa Rosa City Schools, is open and accessible from many entry points. In addition, many campuses share boundaries with parks and open spaces, something that can further impede school officials' abilities to monitor who comes and goes from campuses.

"I think for educators in general, it's a fine line between creating a welcoming, nurturing environment and creating a fortress and the message that sends to students," said Superintendent Socorro Shiels. "I think we are very conscious of the two worlds."

Shiels said she will watch how Montgomery's policy unfolds to assess whether other schools should follow suit.

"I think we'll be able to see kind of how this goes," she said.

In addition to concerns over shootings, Fong said officials have, in the past, struggled with incidents in which students who don't attend Montgomery have come on campus and started "drama."

Senior Justin Perry recalled a particularly violent fight that occurred last year after a person came to the Montgomery campus looking to brawl with a student. Both boys agreed to leave campus and fight, Perry said.

"It's so quick," he said of the escalation to violence.

"An ID wouldn't have stopped it. They went off campus to do it," he said. "There are ways around it."

But Perry said he's not opposed to being required to carry an ID and produce it when asked.

"If they need to know who we are, I can just take it out and show someone," he said.

Freshman Soli Kaiser said the policy doesn't bother her and will likely improve safety.

"If something happens, they can identify if you are one of our students," she said.

Others were less open to the idea.

"You want to recognize a shooter? Look for the gun," said junior Stone Soulie.

"I think it's pointless," said sophomore Emma Guillory. "I don't think anyone is going to wear one. I think it's going to be over in a week because they can't give everyone detentions."

But Fong said penalties for noncompliance — and whether there will be any — have not been determined.

"We don't want to find another way to get you into trouble here," she told the students. "We are asking for understanding and compliance."

Freshman Elexa Yee said she doesn't see the need for the new policy.

"This is my first year here, so I don't feel unsafe," she said. "I feel it will clash with all of my outfits, that's what I worry about."

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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