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Schools have an eye on access

Districts automate visitor management systems to enhance security and efficiency

Today’s more sophisticated visitor management systems allow K12 leaders to get a better handle on who’s trying to enter (or leave) their buildings—including tardy students.

Lobby kiosks can perform automated and instant background checks, screen guests, and issue badges. This process can immediately identify registered sex offenders and alert staff to parental custody issues, among other concerns. And all of this information can be shared in real-time among schools and administrators.

Along with installing hardware and software for advanced verification, administrators must ensure that staff know how to use the new systems and that visitors, particularly parents, are aware of new procedures and policies.


Online exclusive: Leading system providers on K12 visitor management


Such a platform can change the security culture of a district, such as at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, which recently installed new visitor management technology in nearly 200 buildings.

“School and center administrators are [now] more confident in their visitor screening procedures, as are parents with the efforts to provide a safer learning environment for their children,” says John Torre, Fairfax’s public information officer.

Keys to visitor management: Issue awareness and advanced verification

Lots of visitors to manage

14.9 million—Approximate number of check-ins logged by visitor management provider Ident-A-Kid at 4,500 client schools in 2017

5.45 million—Approximate number of student check-ins at those schools using Ident-a-Kid in 2017

*Students check in or out when they’re tardy or leave early

Sources: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Raptor Technologies, Ident-A-Kid, U.S. Department of Justice

Transition coordination

Visitors to Henry County Public Schools used to wait in line to sign in—or sign out—on a piece of paper at a building's front window. “This relied heavily on each visitor providing accurate information and remembering to sign out,” says Monica Adams Hatchett, the Virginia district’s director of communications and organizational learning.

The paper system also presented privacy and recordkeeping challenges. Visitors could see other names on the sheet, and the daily logs created voluminous piles of paper.

Since the district transitioned its 14 schools, central office and an educational center to an automated Ident-a-Kid system, visitors now use a kiosk in an outer lobby to sign in and print badges. Once visitors have checked in, a staff member buzzes them through the main doors.

At the beginning of implementation, the district publicized the system on its television show, which runs on social media and local cable. It also sent information home to parents, and designated a transition coordinator at each school to assist visitors for the first week the new system was in place.

The technology also allows staff to compile visitor reports. For example, a principal can quickly find out how many volunteers were in the school during a day, week, month, semester or school year. Previously, a staff member had to collect that information manually in a time-consuming process, Hatchett says.

“Though some [of our] schools have only had the system in use for a short time, we are already realizing time-saving benefits with attendance recordkeeping and school volunteer engagement,” Hatchett says.

Keys to visitor management: Issue awareness and advanced verification (cont.)

Sex offenders at the school door

859,000—Registered sex offenders in the U.S.

50,000—Number of registered sex offenders visitor management software provider Raptor Technologies has flagged attempting to enter its 19,000 client schools

30—Average number of sex offenders flagged per day across Raptor client schools

Sources: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Raptor Technologies, Ident-A-Kid, U.S. Department of Justice

(cont.)

A big district’s solution

Some years ago, Fairfax County Public Schools—one of the largest districts in the U.S.—mechanized the badging process at all of its buildings to eliminate paper visitor logs and more quickly screen for registered sex offenders. Administrators also wanted all school sites to have access to the same visitor databases and applications.

So the district installed ScholarChip's comprehensive, single-platform visitor management system districtwide. “Our biggest challenge is keeping unauthorized individuals from accessing buildings during regular school hours, when student and staff populations are at their peak,” says Torre, the public information officer.

As part of the nearly three-year implementation, the district developed email notifications that alert everyone in a school if an unauthorized person tries to enter.

To ensure a smooth transition, in-person training sessions were held for designated staff. Those representatives then trained other employees at their buildings. The district also makes web-based training available and provides follow-up sessions when needed.

A significant number of registered sex offenders have been prevented from entering Fairfax schools, Torre says. Typically these individuals were friends or relatives of students who thought they would be allowed to visit. However, Torre indicates that “a number of those were registered as violent offenders, who were subsequently arrested.”

Keys to visitor management: Issue awareness and advanced verification (cont.)

Family abduction concerns

200,000—Children who are victims of family abductions each year

7%—­Family abductions occurring at school or day care centers

Sources: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Raptor Technologies, Ident-A-Kid, U.S. Department of Justice

(cont.)

Information is power

Until recently, parents and other visitors to St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Louisiana signed in using a paper log and carbon copy sheet. They showed their IDs to the school secretary who wrote information on adhesive badges for visitors to wear.

“These were often illegible, handwritten badges that sometimes fell off while visitors were inside the school,” says Kade Rogers, administrator of safety, security and emergency preparedness for St. Charles Parish Public Schools. Additionally, front desk staff had to check emailed lists of local sex offenders when visitors signed in.

To fix these issues, St. Charles installed a Raptor Technologies visitor management system in its 21 buildings. The district sent information home to parents explaining how the system worked and noting it would not store data aside from scanning their name, date of birth and ID photos.

School administrators now have access to real-time visitor information. Previously visitor records were paper-based at each school and not easily accessible at the district level.

Keys to visitor management: Issue awareness and advanced verification (cont.)

Visitor tracking system capabilities

  • Perform instant background checks
  • Screen guests and issue badges
  • Vet and track volunteers, vendors and contractors
  • Automatically log tardies and early dismissals
  • Identify registered sex offenders
  • Alert staff to parental custody issues
  • Create detailed visitor reports
  • Allow schools to share real-time information

Sources: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Raptor Technologies, Ident-A-Kid, U.S. Department of Justice

Tardiness traffic

Visitors systems can be customized to access school databases that identify authorized vendors, contractors and volunteers, or to warn about restraining orders or parental custody restrictions.

A school can set notifications that identify which parents should pick up students on certain days of the week, says Craig Lockwood, president of ScholarChip, a visitor management and security company.

The most frequent traffic, however, involves tardy students and those leaving early. Some schools see nearly three to four times more student sign-ins than other visitors, says Rick Hagan, CEO of Ident-A-Kid Services of America, a visitor management software company.

Because of this, many schools have students sign in and out, and note a reason for their late arrival or early departure using the visitor management system. The system can also print a badge that the student can use as a hall pass to take to their teacher.

Because of the staff labor involved in recording attendance manually, this can help schools realize significant time and cost savings.

In some cases, due to increased accountability and transparency for students and parents, the systems have even helped schools reduce tardiness by an average of 10 percent, which in some instances, more than pays for the system, Hagan says. 

Kelley R. Taylor is a freelance writer specializing in law and education.