By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Uh-oh. Have I been here before? It's the day before Halloween. I am at Dallas Independent School District headquarters, and I am already seeing ghosts.
One is in a real short skirt, and her name is Yvonne. The other one, Waldemar, is holding a tin cup and chortling insanely. They're both whirling around me, and I'm scared.
I think I'm seeing the Ghosts of School Scandals Past.
Yvonne Gonzalez, Our Lady of the Skirts, was superintendent of Dallas Schools from January until September 1997, before going to jail. Waldemar Rojas, who held a press conference with tin beggars' cups to mock his own employers on the school board, was superintendent from 1999 to 2000, at which time he was fired.
Toward the end of both regimes, school district headquarters saw major security crackdowns. I distinctly remember that in each instance the security guards at DISD headquarters got a lot more horsey about allowing people into the building.
So now the same syndrome is showing up again as school superintendent Michael Hinojosa comes under increasing fire for blowing his budget and firing hundreds of teachers.
Today I am in the hallway just inside the public entrance to 3700 Ross Ave., and a uniformed guard has just asked me for my driver's license so that she can give it to "The Raptor."
The Raptor? You got it. The Raptor. Phew. I just got a chill.
This is new. Brand-new. No one at DISD has ever given my driver's license to The Raptor before. The Raptor is a little gizmo on top of the guard desk with an image of a mean-looking dinosaur on one side.
She feeds my driver's license into the Raptor's mouth.
It disappears! The damn Raptor ate my driver's license! Now how am I gonna drive?
Oh, wait. Here it comes out the hind end of the Raptor. Yuck. She better wipe that thing off before she gives it back to me.
Now I can explain. Since that fateful morning, the day before Halloween when I had to let the Raptor eat my driver's license in order to gain entrance to school district headquarters, I have been doing some research. Raptor Technologies Inc. is a Houston company that provides school districts with a way to check driver's licenses to see if somebody is a registered sex offender.
The Raptor also compiles a database in Houston of names and driver's license data for every person who seeks to enter school premises. The idea, I am told, is to protect schools. The Dallas school district says Raptor units have been installed in about four schools but also at 3700 Ross.
Maybe you can make an argument for putting the units at schools, even though it seems to me there are major downside arguments against it. In a school district with a huge immigrant population, background checks at the schoolhouse door are going to keep a hell of a lot of parents away from the door, which is not a good thing.
But the one place where the system is totally weird is at school headquarters. I have spent a good deal of time at Dallas school headquarters over the years, and I truly believe the folks there are safe from sexual predation, unless there is some new kind of perversion I have never heard of where child molesters go after overweight, wrinkled people. You know, cute as I am, I sometimes wonder if I'm totally safe myself surrounded by all those DISD headquarters people.
Another thing bothers me: DISD headquarters security has started telling members of the public that they can't attend district press conferences. I have received several complaints about this. People show up hoping to hear first-hand what is said, and obviously some of these are folks who also want to give their side of the story to reporters.
They get there on time for a press conference, but even after they have given their driver's licenses to the Raptor, they aren't allowed to enter the room where the press conference is going on.
This bothers me on several levels. Members of the press are just members of the public. There is no legal distinction. If you invite us in, you're inviting in the public, because that's who and what we are—no more, no less. At a recent press conference, members of the public were told that they could not enter because they didn't have "press credentials." But blogger Allen Gwinn was allowed to go in, because supposedly he does.
Listen. Gwinn doesn't have press credentials, in the sense of having an official badge or hall pass. Neither do I. Nobody does in Dallas, because no police agency issues press credentials any more, because press credentials are bullshit. They don't mean jack. What we all have instead are press credentials that are either outright fake or of very thin legitimacy. I print my own. For years I carried a press pass that had my picture, the word, "PRESS," in large, capital letters, and then in very small print at the bottom the words, "Allowed to cross police lines and kill people, if necessary."