This article originally appeared in The Bulletin and was written by Abby Spegman. To view the original article, click here.
BEND, OR – Five years ago you could walk into Ponderosa Elementary School in Bend and go straight to a classroom, says principal Steve Austin. Now, a bell alerts office staff every time the front door opens, and signs blocking the classroom wings tell visitors to sign in.
This year, visitors to Ponderosa and other Bend schools will be asked to present photo identification and submit to being searched in the national sex offender registry every time they enter the building.
The system is being tested at six of 32 school sites in Bend-La Pine Schools — Pacific Crest and High Desert middle schools; Ponderosa, High Lakes and Pine Ridge elementary schools; and the district’s offices in downtown Bend, which hosts alternative education programs.
There was no particular incident that prompted the increased security, said Julianne Repman, the district’s director of communications and school security. Rather the district is seeking a uniform method to track visitors.
Schools have paper logs where visitors sign in and out. Some schools ask for photo ID; some don’t.
“This is just an opportunity to continue to improve the school climate, school safety, and better manage visitors in the schools,” Repman said, calling it an extra layer of protection.
On their first visit to one of the pilot sites, visitors and volunteers have their driver’s license scanned by a school staffer in the main office. A visitor’s name, date of birth, photo and the last four digits of his or her driver’s license number are saved in an online database; the person’s name is then checked against the sex offender registry.
The visitor then gets a badge with his or her name and photo and where he or she is going in the school printed on it.
The system tracks when a person arrives and how long he or she stays. On subsequent visits, people scan their driver’s licenses at a check-in kiosk and the system again searches the sex offender registry. (Volunteers undergo a separate criminal background check since they are working with children, but visitors do not.)
School staff can also enter alerts into the online database — if a person has a no-trespass order, or if a court has ordered a parent stay away from his or her child — and the principal gets an automated text message if that person signs in.
There is also a staff and student sign-in feature that Bend schools are not using currently.
The company behind the service, Houston-based Raptor Technologies, is in 16,000 schools nationwide and gets dozens of reports every day of sex offenders trying to enter its schools, said Nelson Lins, Raptor’s vice president of technology and operations.
The service is also used in hospitals and office complexes, but the company’s focus is K-12 schools. In Oregon, schools in Newberg and Gervais also use Raptor.
When asked about privacy concerns, Lins said most parents care more about protecting their children.
“The reality is when you’re talking about kids, it becomes a lot easier,” he said.
Such security measures are becoming more common, said Ron Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center.
“School officials have a tough situation to deal with. They’re trying to create a safe (environment) without being too overly intrusive,” he said, noting such checks on visitors can also protect schools against lawsuits. “You get someone on the campus who doesn’t belong, and schools are now being sued for not providing a safe campus.”
Raptor’s scanners accept government-issued ID, including passports and green cards. People who don’t have ID can be entered into the system initially with just a name and date of birth, but they are encouraged to come back with ID.
For parents on the sex offender registry, Repman said the district can make arrangements to allow them to visit schools, such as requiring they be accompanied by a staff member at all times.
The pilot program cost the district about $9,400. Raptor charges a $480 annual fee per school plus $1,089 for equipment at each school.
One issue so far is that stickers on the back of some Oregon licenses can wear down, making them hard to scan. Other states’ licenses have two barcodes or holograms that can also be problematic.
Raptor representatives were in Bend last week to try to fix the problem. Repman said the district is also looking into other visitor management systems in case there is no fix.
This is just the latest security measure to be introduced at Bend schools.
“It just seems like every year we get another thing,” Austin, the principal at Ponderosa Elementary. “We want to keep it friendly, and that’s hard when you have these barriers.”
He expected pushback from parents on the new system but so far has only heard one complaint.
Jennifer Nance is the mother of three students at Ponderosa and volunteers a few times a week in their classrooms. She said the system is easy to use, and she likes the security features.
“I think (schools) should have a clearance for who’s in the classroom,” she said. “There’s a picture ID with it so you know they are who they say they are.”