All Gardeners are Perverts, Part I

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest “help” on the way for kids threatened by those terrifying thugs: community gardeners. In Denver, people can rent small plots on school grounds to grow what sound like “victory gardens.” But now — after 25 years of this program — suddenly anyone who plants on school property is required to undergo a criminal background check, or get out.

Said one participant, quoted by the Denver Post’s Mike McPhee, “Where  did we go so wrong that if you potentially have contact with a child you have to have a background check? ”

Where indeed? That is what Free-Range Kids examines all the time: How we came to distrust almost everyone, and fear for our children almost all the time, and discourage the very thing that keeps us all safest: community-mindedness. This gardening story is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). — Lenore

42 Responses

  1. All I can say is, “UGH!” What’s more, many of the responses to the article make the DPS decision seem mild, by comparison.

  2. I think what’s really frightening is reading the comments to the article. Everyone seems to go on and on about what a scary dangerous place this is for the children and we’re just trying to protect them. The only scary and dangerous place seems to be in the minds of the adults running the school. And $16,000 for background checks? Out of the school’s pocket? I mean, seriously, you hear so many complaints about schools losing funding and then they want to waste their meager funds on something like this!

  3. I am wondering if the school district is afraid of being sued for lack of due diligence on the off-chance something does happen to a child.

  4. I was just going to repeat what Marvin and Robyn already said…the comments are quite disturbing. Apparently the gardeners should shut up and simply comply- because Lord knows anyone could be a child molester.

  5. How much longer before anybody that might have contact with any child, anywhere, just decides to hole up in the house and cut themselves off from the outside world instead of putting up with crap like this?

    In the long run, doesn’t it teach our kids that you can’t trust anybody, when in fact, you can trust most people.

    What about people whose yards back up to the school? If they have a garden and no fence, do they need a background check?

  6. I’ve been reading the comments on the article since this morning with amusement (I finally caved and sent the link in), but my favorite is the last one “Any public school administrator will tell you that their first priority is to keep the school children safe. That is every school district’s mission, especially after Columbine.”

    Considering it was 2 kids within the school who created that chaos, what would getting background checks on people outside the school have to do with that situation?

  7. My reply to the online newspaper:

    “Exactly when did Denver become the “Shrieking Hysterics” capital of the world? To those who call up the ghost of Columbine to support this moronic mistreatment of local gardeners, let me remind you: It was two kids – students – who shot up the place, not two gardeners.

    “As long as civic-minded citizens are treated as criminals for things that are statistically unlikely to happen, you will have a growing and simmering resentment in your community.

    “I’m glad I live in New Jersey — we may not know how to balance a state budget, but our parents taught us how to be good neighbors.”

    Granted, that last part excludes the Sopranos.

  8. Do these people actually work with kids or have any contact with kids? It doesn’t sound like it.

    I also question the usefulness of those lists. I like the idea of having a list of child molesters available, but most child molesters on not on the list, and most of the people on the list aren’t child molesters. If they were more selective about who gets on the list I’d think they were of more value.

    So someone who got caught urinating in public after a night at the bar 15 years ago won’t be allowed to garden. All to protect children who weren’t in danger in the first place as they aren’t in contact with the gardeners anyway. Another fine use of tax dollars.

  9. Great way to waste school funding. I think its just as ridiculous as requiring parents to undergo a background check before being able to volunteer in the classroom. Sure its better to be safe than sorry, but do parents (supervised by a teacher in the classroom) really present a danger to kids? I think not. The same is probably true for the community gardeners.

  10. Noo! Not gardners! The horror! Yeah, not everyone is out there to steal kids.

    -adrienne
    http://wearegoodkin.com

  11. The media plays a huge part in all of this. 20 years ago, the same crimes still happened as they do now, and just as often. It’s just now, media covers everything they can get their hands on. Forget privacy to the families, forget the safety of the victims, and forget the integrity that used to be in journalism, it’s all about ratings and prestige. The more a newspaper, network, or radio can dish out, the better it is for them. Now couple that with already paranoid, naive, and ignorant people who spread the word even more. Unfortunately, like a broken telephone. Then you have something that spreads like a disease that everyone is trying not to get.

    Whether you fear it or not, this world we live in has always been the same, and will continue to be so until people start caring. The choices are; do we succumb to the fears and propaganda, or do we accept that there are just some things beyond our control, and live life to the fullest (smartly of course), and control that which we can. I’ve chosen the latter, and I find myself much more happy and content. I teach my nephew the same things I was taught when I was his age. He’s a happy, smart kid, that knows more than a lot of kids his age.

  12. The real problem, of course is vegetable porn (don’t even THINK of googling it).

    Eateries are a problem, as well:
    http://boingboing.net/2008/06/04/burger-king-tray-lin.html

    Oh my poor, poor, innocent little kids. At least meat is safe!

  13. N, don’t forget that the list also contains 18 year old kids who had sex with their 17 year old girlfriend/boyfriend!

  14. Ha – want to help out around with your son’s Little League team? (And I don’t mean coach.) Yep, you need to fill out a form and have your background checked. Totally ridiculous. The kids are never out of sight of more than a half dozen parents, either, but that’s besides the point.

  15. I swear, I think that if you can’t bother to look at actual facts and actual numbers to base your opinion on the safety of the world, you should be sterilized so you don’t have to worry about it and the rest of us can raise the next crop of intelligent, self-sufficient adults.

    At least **some** of the commenters on there aren’t morons. Sheesh.

  16. The sad thing is that it’s so hard to stand up to this sort of insanity when doing so means you risk having your own character judged. I can hear it now: ” What kind of person wouldn’t want to protect innocent children? You must not care about their safety, or maybe you’re a child abuser yourself. ”
    Who wants to stand up to that kind of scrutiny? I sure wouldn’t.

  17. That’s just sad.

  18. What if one of the gardeners is growing poison mushrooms?

    How about this:

    Your little kid walking past and the 75 year old grandfather/gardener who has been growing things for 25 years offers your child something horrid, something an overweight, sun-deprived, chained to the front door child has never seen……. A CARROT!!!!!

  19. My child goes to a DPS school with a community garden inside the school grounds. Rarely do we see anyone as most of the gardeners are there during after school hours. It is a nice way to use up a unused plot of land by bringing in many flowers and vegetables. I am always surprised though that people would want to garden there because the kids think it is great fun to run around the rows of plants on the way home from school. In other words, the kids are more of a danger to the gardeners by stomping on their plants than the gardeners to the kids.

  20. Stranger danger is a piece of fiction. Shouldn’t the gardeners be the ones that are afraid? What about the Children Of The Corn?

  21. I am a third grade teacher in Wisconsin and we were recently informed that we have to get consent for background checks on all parents who want to chaperone field trips. This is embarrassing and insulting.

  22. Such insanity. People gardening on school property pose LESS of a threat than people gardening, or doing anything, anywhere else.

    Why? Because most of the time, when kids are on school property, they are surrounded by a gazillion people, including their teachers. If there is some purported danger because a kid is wandering around the school property hours after the school is deserted — well, they could be wandering around ANYWHERE ELSE that a human being (read: potential threat) might be.

    So why, again, does even the most paranoid person think that gardening on school property poses a particular threat to children, even given the assumption that just anybody is likely to molest a child?

  23. I hate all this background check BS that’s taken root in the last 20 years. What ever happened to trust and integrity?

  24. Has there been a rash of child abuse by gardeners in Denver?

  25. @king krak- I am a social worker (with a Master’s degree) and have to get background checks regularly as a part of my ever-changing jobs…..and despite having a valid certificate showing a recent background check, the softball league I coach for required I have another one done. Glad to see that my league dues are being spent wisely.

    Because you know us social workers- dangerous, dangerous individuals who work for low pay trying to HELP people.

  26. A colleague told me he wasn’t allowed to ride the bus to school with his daughter because he hadn’t had a criminal background check. Exactly what kind of mischief is someone going to get up to on a school bus filled with parents and their children?

    When I dared to suggest that this was kind of insane and that there is not, in fact, a child molester lurking behind every lamp post, he accused me of “living under a rock” and proceeded to tell me what a dangerous place the world is. I wonder how his daughter will deal with the world…you know, if he ever allows her out of the protective bubble long enough.

  27. @ Michelle (and others): As a teacher, I’ve been saying this for years. Realistically speaking, the person most likely to “shoot up” a school is another student. The person most likely to take advantage of a child in school is (sadly) a teacher. (Note – I’m not in any way saying these things are likely to happen, but if they do, we need to place the correct blame.)

    I have worked in 3 school systems now, and all students and staff are routinely expected to wear ID badges, and all visitors are to sign in (in one county I worked in, they had to have a quick background check for warrants, etc., before entering the school – I don’t know how it worked, but it was based on their driver’s license and something computerized). The idea is that we are keeping the kids safe. I always point out that it’s exceedingly rare for someone from the outside to come inside to do harm, and it’s far more likely that if something happens, it will be internally, but nobody listens to me (or maybe nobody wants to listen).

    Maybe we need to change our system so that everyone is isolated from anyone but him/herself 24/7, if we’re really talking about taking it down to 0 risk from outsiders… (picture me rolling my eyes).

  28. Alexis, I’m not so sure it is more likely for students to shoot up the school than other people.

    I can only think of a handful of school shootings *anyway*… but there are hardly any more done by students than by non-students. (Of course, there are so few that the sample size is skewed by definition. I guess the real answer is “school shootings aren’t that common”.)

  29. Syzygy, why does your friend want to ride the school bus with his daughter in the first place? That seems a bit odd to me, though I’m sure his motives are pure and all that.

  30. Regardless of whether it’s *more* likely for students to shoot up schools, citing Columbine as a reason to keep gardeners off of school property indicates that someone lacks reasoning power. Columbine is a reason to keep kids off of school property. Wait, you say, that’s ridiculous! Well, yeah. Precisely.

  31. @Uly, The kids were about 5 years old and it was their first day of school; many parents rode along with their kids. Sorry I forgot to mention that – did sound a little weird, didn’t it?

  32. I’m getting a chuckle out of the blog comments on the DPS gardener issue . . . I think, as is often the case, there may be extremists on both sides of this argument. I’ve been asked by my children’s schools to fill out background check information every year for several years now in order to chaperone field trips, etc. for my kids. It’s not a big deal — takes about 5 minutes or less. I’m not sure why the gardener reacted with “disbelief and anger” at being asked to do this. While most child molestation occurs with people known to children (i.e. neighbors, family members,etc.), a significant amount of child molestation cases occur when ill-intentioned adults purposely seek out jobs or volunteer positions which allow them (or pave the way for) easy access to young children in unsupervised situtions. I don’t really see the harm in asking those close to our young kids to show that they have good intentions. Conversely, I don’t believe that every person who comes in contact with my kids is a pervert who’s trying to molest them. We live smack in the middle of a moderate sized town with plenty of ne’er do wells hanging about. (In fact, a random check of the city newspaper’s published daily arrests, or our state’s sex offender registry confirms several unsavory characters in our immediate area.) But I don’t close the shutters and shelter my kids inside. Instead, they ride their bikes around town, walk to and from school and hang out in groups of kids with instruction from me about handling interactions with strangers. Problem is, many kids don’t get such instruction at home. Some kids woud walk up to anybody with a puppy or a piece of candy and assume they’re safe. Sometimes, they’re not. I have no idea what the cost is to our school system for doing background checks. I’m fairly certain the nubmers quoted on this blog are a bit elevated, because if they were accurate, our school system would be out of business in a year. I think the key is to teach our children what we believe they need to know to be both care-free and safe. Please know, however, that there are many parents “out there” who don’t do this, and if a simple background check will prevent even one child from the horrendous experience of being molested, abducted, etc., I have no problem with it.

  33. “a significant amount of child molestation cases occur when ill-intentioned adults purposely seek out jobs or volunteer positions which allow them (or pave the way for) easy access to young children in unsupervised situtions.”

    None of which this was. It was gardening on school property, not involving the kids, which poses no greater risk to kids than gardening anywhere else during non-school hours, and less risk during school hours, when kids will be constantly supervised by others.

  34. “I’m not sure why the gardener reacted with “disbelief and anger” at being asked to do this.”

    Because he was being asked to prove he was not a child molester before being allowed to do something that didn’t involve kids, maybe?

  35. Wow, but according to this ad, you can’t trust anyone, including your accountant or your mortgage broker, with out a background check. This ad made me want to cry!

  36. Here in Southern California we had a similar situation regarding a railroad historical group that has a collection of locomotives and other rolling stock at the County Fairgrounds. The exhibit also includes a retired depot that serves as a museum and welcome center. Since I’m not a member of this particular group I never did find the outcome, but some years ago the Fairground management tried to require all the volunteers who staff the depot during Fair season to have background checks. Many of the members were indeed insulted by the request, and may have ceased their volunteer work except for days when the public did not have access.
    And…..regarding field-trip chaperon duty: I did some of that when my daughters were in middle school (around 1973). I was usually assigned to the back of the bus, because the rowdier kids gravitated to that area. Of course, in those days “rowdy” meant that if we came alongside an “18-wheeler” they’d try to get the trucker to blow his air horns (miming someone pulling on a horn-valve cord). This was before the CB radio craze and “Big 10-4 Good Buddy”.

  37. Thank you, Alexis. I live in a small rural farming community of about 2500 people. We have one elementary, one middle, and one high school with about 400 students in each. That’s small enough that everyone knows each other.

    After Columbine and a couple other shootings, the local school board hired a security firm to advise them. Their solution was to make all the adults (teachers, staff, and visitors) wear an ID badge at all times. The students are not required to wear any kind of ID.

    We lost a great teacher (who was highly respected by parents and other teachers) because he refused to wear his badge. He thought it was insulting. He offered to carry the ID in his pocket, and if there were an emergency, he would put it on. But that was not good enough, and the board fired him.

    A staff member told me that he thought the ID badges were a great idea. He told me that if he saw someone he didn’t know, but that person was wearing an official ID badge, he would know right away that he could trust that person. Talk about living in a fantasy world.

  38. Dear Lenore:
    Have you read “The Death & Life of American Cities” by Jane Jacobs? She was lamenting and forecasting the death of neighborhoods and street-life back in the 60’s. If you haven’t yet you might want to check it out; it’s a great read.

    Also–I don’t know if you’ve thought about this–would it be useful, or possible, to get a kids’ eye perspective on some of this? You get a lot of smart kids commenting here or link to articles about what kids are doing to change the world around them. Right now this is a great resource for parents, but I bet a lot of kids are checking this site out, too, wondering if they can make a difference. It would be great to hear their voices, and for them to hear their own.

  39. Just FYI many of these background checks are
    1) Mandated by state legislatures
    2) Start after a media feeding frenzy

    We started using RAPTOR (does the background check via DL or other state ID card) after a media frenzy. A pedophile showed up at a school asking to volunteer, and work with a specific student. The alarm bells went off in staff members’ heads. They delayed him with paperwork while contacting the child’s family. The child was victim of the pedophile who had just gotten out of jail.

    What happened next resembled an old keystone cops movie. He took off and showed up at another school – who used the same tactic using paper work to delay him . 1st school reported what happened and we got a blast e-mail alerting us to him. 2nd school called the cops and he took off. He showed up at a 3rd school – who called the cops. We get a 2nd blast e-mail with his mug shot. Now 4 or 5 different police forces are involved with the state getting involved and sending DPS.

    They caught the guy, revoked his parole. The lead on the news “LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT ALLOWS CONVICTED PEDOPHILE TO VOLUNTEER” Technically correct because he was allowed to fill out the paperwork.

    So to CYA we started using Raptor. I asked the front office – and because of Raptor a good number of people, who should not be around children are denied access to our school. There are 4 – 5 that are arrested for being on a school campus when they are not supposed to be each year. Now most of those are specific to our students. Parents that have had their rights terminated or people who parents have ROs against.

  40. A friend of mine had her son enrolled at a Catholic school and had to submit to a background check to accompany the class on a field trip. Anyone besides me see the IRONY here?

  41. I suppose sex offenders should be prohibited from lurking on school grounds, but otherwise, I say WTH?

  42. Even though I’m a reading tutor at school (and work with children all day), I had to have a second background check to work at the Children’s Library in town. Evidently one background check isn’t enough!

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