Districts flock to technology for managing visitors

As a principal, Geoff Stands wouldn’t have known if a campus visitor was a registered sex offender unless they told him so.

While that hasn’t been an issue for the former principal-turned-regional director in the West Ada School District, Stands doesn’t have to rely on campus guests self-disclosing that information anymore.

This year, all West Ada schools are scanning visitor ID’s, adding the visitors to a digital management system, and then running a check against the sex offender registry.

“In a large district like ours it just provided some consistency to manage visitors that come on campus,” Stands said. “Then, of course, there’s that extra feature…if we do have someone who is not supposed to be here, we know and then we can have that conversation.”

Software-based visitor management systems are a rising trend in school districts across the state, replacing familiar pen-and-paper sign in sheets in the front office. Brian Armes, manager of Idaho’s Office of School Safety & Security, estimates 25 percent of districts have some sort of digital management system for visitors, and the number is growing.

“As an office, we really like those systems,” Armes said. “We’re always interested in systems that serve more than a single purpose.”

The visitor management systems are both a digital guest book and added security measure. Systems like Raptor Technology and EasyLobby ask visitors to scan their drivers license, then check visitor ID’s against sex-offender registries. Some programs can also connect to a school’s internal databases and flag unique concerns — like visitors who have been banned from campus, or relatives who don’t have custodial rights over a student.

“When we say ‘access control,’ people think of locking up doors,” Armes said. “You have to look at that entire landscape, and part of that is knowing who is on campus, and if they really do belong on campus.”

Stands said the system allows school staff some flexibility to work with parents in special situations. For example, if a parent doesn’t have a drivers license, staff can manually input another form of identification. All parents need some kind of ID to register their child, Stands said.

And, by law, Stands said that parents who are registered sex offenders are allowed to apply for permission to participate in school events, like parent teacher conferences. Those parents have to tell the school about their sex-offender status and work out particular stipulations with the district about campus visits, he said.

While Stands doesn’t typically deal with a high volume of these parents, he said, the district is hearing from them more often now that they have implemented the new visitor system.

“That tells me perhaps we had people that were not self-disclosing before that were just coming on to the campus,” Stands said.

The software systems, while gaining popularity, might be cost prohibitive depending on a district’s budget. Armes estimates the initial setup cost is around $25,000, plus an ongoing annual maintenance and update fee.

West Ada installed a Raptor Technologies system in schools for about $90,000 Stands said. He estimates the yearly licensing and maintenance will cost about $35,000 for the large district.

The Middleton School District, which plans to launch visitor management software district-wide this week, set aside $33,248 to install the program during a July board meeting.

The Coeur d’Alene School District has used Raptor for visitor management system for more than a decade, spokesman Scott Maben said.

Since implementing the program in 2005-2006, the district has seen a number of “positive matches” agains the sex offender registry or other internal concerns flagged by the district, Maben said. Those individuals were not allowed on campus.

“We view Raptor as a prevention measure and a necessary tool to screen visitors before allowing them into our schools,” Maben said in an email. “Worthwhile? Yes. Concerns? No.”

Sami Edge

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