Spotlight on Operation Beacon: A new controversial program in Chatham County schools

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When Dr. Ann Levett took over as superintendent of Savannah Chatham County Public Schools, she made it a goal to introduce Operation Beacon.

It’s a way for the school district to track how many parent volunteers they have in the district, to see which schools need more volunteers and to monitor who is permitted to be a volunteer and work with the children.

Parents, grandparents, and any other adults who want to volunteer, must go through a state background check, and those who wish to be at the highest level of volunteering, in order to work directly with the students, must pass a fingerprint check. If they have any felonies in their past, they are not allowed to volunteer.

Some people feel that monitoring goes too far and stops people who would be a positive influence on their children from getting the chance to make an impact on their lives.

People like Morris Pollard who, until this change, was volunteering with schoolchildren, rewarding those who are doing well in school with school supplies and bicycles. He also taught them how to act in class.

"You could get a 90 or a 100, but if your conduct is not good, than that 100 is a zero," Pollard said.

Pollard has children who are grown and grandchildren not quite old enough yet for high school, but he considers all school kids worthy of his time.

The school district, however, sees it differently. Pollard's non-violent felony would likely bar him from ever being allowed to volunteer in the schools.

“Our responsibility is to ensure student and staff’s safety. And that’s what we’re committed to doing,” Levett said.

The other issue both the school district and critics of Operation Beacon agree on is that there are currently a desperate need for more volunteers.

578 kids attend Butler Elementary School, but only 22 people are signed up to volunteer there.

At Shuman Elementary, there are 680 kids, but only 17 volunteers and East Broad Elementary has 552 kids, with only 12 volunteers.

In total, there are about 38,000 kids in the school district, but only about 1,000 parents have agreed to get fingerprinted and run a background check.

Of those more than 1,000, only 12 of that number were not cleared. Now even those 12 have been allowed or afforded an opportunity to say give it a second look.

But there are many people, including Pollard, who say they’re not going to take time to run background check if they know it’s not going to get them positive results.

"With my felony or not, I’m going to continue to do what I do," Pollard said

To learn more about Operation Beacon, visit their website.

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