Parents who need to visit their kids’ in Shawnee Mission schools will find a few new high-tech gizmos waiting for them in the office beginning this week. And they had better come prepared with a driver’s license or some other form of ID.
Gone will be the roll of generic “visitor” stickers doled out after signing in at the front desk. Instead, a scanner will take a look at the magnetic strip on the driver’s license, save the photo for future reference and do a cursory check with the national database of sex offenders. Then a sticker will be printed up with the visitor’s picture, destination in the building, time of day and expected exit time.
It’s all part of a new system intended to nail down exactly who is in school buildings at any given time, said John Douglass, director of safety and security for the district.
The “Raptor” system will allow school officials to keep tabs on everyone coming and going, including vendors and repair workers, Douglass said. And it will help office employees avoid confusion that arises with divorce and child custody issues, he said.
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The district has had visitor stickers and sign-ins for years, but the background check and photo scanning is new. The system will not only check the sex offender list, but the school database of divorce decrees outlining who can have contact with the child and when, he said.
“We’re moving to the point where most business you have in school can be done in the office,” said Douglass. “If somebody needs to go home we want to make sure he goes with the right person.”
The new system also will ensure that the school has an accurate count of everyone in the building should an emergency arise, he said.
The district warned school visitors to come prepared with ID beginning this week.
But even though the new system is designed to be more accurate, there is still some leeway written in, Douglass said. If a parent has visited once and provided a license but forgets on a subsequent visit, the photo will still be on file.
The district also will accept passports and other forms of identification and will work with people who don’t have documentation, he said, although those people may not have immediate access to the building until the ID is worked out, he said.
A match with the sex offender database may not necessarily deny a visitor access to the building, he said, “but it will be an opportunity for increased supervision,” of that individual.
People who volunteer at schools on a regular basis may already be used to the added scrutiny. Background checks have been commonplace for years for them. Their fingerprints are also sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
But the district differentiates between regular volunteers and someone who is only in once a year to help at a room party. Ongoing volunteers working directly with students get brief training and the fingerprint check, said Leigh Anne Neal, district spokesperson. But single-time or infrequent volunteers now have the limited background check with the new system.
The new system, which cost in the neighborhood of $85,000 for 40 schools, is the latest way that security is evolving in schools since the 2012 Newtown, Mass., school shooting. In the aftermath of that mass killing, school districts throughout the area re-examined ways to keep students safe.
Many in the county installed new equipment and reconfigured their front entrances to limit access to outsiders. As part of that effort, the Shawnee Mission district also approved spending $1.9 million this week to add security equipment at five high schools. The money will be used to install digital cameras, electronic door controls and new cabling and software programs for closed-circuit TV systems.
Every district in the county has made at least some changes to improve security since Newtown, but Shawnee Mission’s visitor ID system may be unique. Neither Blue Valley nor De Soto schools have electronic ID checking. Both those districts changed their school entrances to have “pinch point” access that forces visitors to stop at the front desk before they can enter the schools. The school office workers will generally know the parents at those schools, said district spokespersons.
The Olathe School District asks visitors to hold up identification to a camera lens at the door before being buzzed in, said Ann Kohn, school spokeswoman. Office staffers have leeway, though, to make decisions about who is allowed in. She said the system has worked well for the district for the past seven or eight years without objections from parents with no documentation.