This article originally appeared in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and was written by Beau Yarbrough. To view the original article, click here.
Fontana, CA – Visit the campus of Dorothy Grant Elementary School, and the first thing you’ll be asked to do is hand over your driver’s license.
You’ll get it back a minute or so later and, if all goes well, you’ll also get a sticker ID badge that includes the photo off your license and your name.
In the time it takes to produce the badge, a new computerized system at all Fontana Unified schools will have looked you up in sex offender databases across the country and let office staff know if you’ve been convicted of a crime and of what sort.
“Our parents love it,” said Lisa Mesler, the office manager at Dorothy Grant. “They’re all about security.”
The school checks in about 50 visitors a week, she said.
“Even for first-time visitors, it takes two minutes. It’s fast,” Mesler said. “It’s not an inconvenience at all.”
The technology the district is using has been around for 15 years and is in place at more than 18,000 schools nationwide, according to Jim Vesterman, CEO of Houston-based Raptor Technologies.
“We’ve been dedicated to schools from the very beginning,” he said.
The company has only recently decided to make a push into California, where it’s now being used at more than 800 schools, most of them in Southern California.
“The majority of schools in America use pencils and paper to screen people coming onto campus” and just have visitors sign a log, Vesterman said. “You could write down my name, and I could write down your name, and nobody would know the difference.”
Among the districts using the technology is Apple Valley Unified.
“A gentleman came in, it was early in the school year. I scanned in his license and it popped up,” said Betty Burton, who works at the front desk at Rancho Verde Elementary. “It was a fairly common name and, by coincidence, the birth date. … The gentleman who popped up on the screen, when I scrolled down, I saw he was currently incarcerated in Virginia.”
The Raptor Visitor Management System scans visitors’ IDs and then compares the name and date of birth with sex offender registries in all 50 states.
“It takes about 30 seconds,” Vesterman said. “These days, we’re flagging about 35 registered sex offenders a day” nationwide.
What the technology does not do, though, is run a full criminal background check on visitors.
Legally, “you can only run a full criminal background check for certain purposes under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” Vesterman said. “You can’t just run a full criminal background check on someone coming into school.”
But each district also has the ability to add entries to a custom database.
“Most districts put in custody issues — who can pick up whom,” Vesterman said. “Otherwise, they’d have to rely on their memory of the front desk person or look it up in a file cabinet.”
Other districts add in local gang members, he said. And one Raptor sales representative in Tennessee found himself flagged by the district’s local database, Vesterman said, for an outstanding cafeteria balance.
Following the on-campus North Park Elementary School shooting in April — when the estranged husband of a teacher shot and killed her and a student and left another injured — San Bernardino City Unified is considering systems such as Raptor’s as part of a planned upgrade to campus security, according to district spokeswoman Linda Bardere.
“We do have something that we’re piloting at North Park,” Bardere said. “It scans your ID when you present it.”
San Bernardino City Unified is trying out a system created by North Carolina-based LobbyGuard, along with other potential upgrades to campus security.
“We’re in the middle of an independent safety assessment,” Bardere said. “We’re trying to do a well-thought-out approach.”
District officials hope the safety assessment will be finished and upgrades will be in place before the new school year starts on Aug. 7.
The system is new to Apple Valley Unified this year.
“It’s nice to be able to tell our parents and community that we’re doing this to keep our kids safe,” Rancho Verde Elementary School Principal Joseph Cranston said.
So far, the system hasn’t caught anyone from coming onto campus who shouldn’t be there, although there was a false positive earlier in the year.
“I get this big red screen with a picture, and it says ‘Is this the person?” said Laura Peters, who works the front desk at Rancho Verde. “It happened to me and I gasped, and was like, ‘No.’ And it gave me five people with that name. It was a very generic, (a) ‘John Smith’-type name. And I went through the list and was, ‘No, no, no, that’s not them.’ And it allowed me to check them.”
If there was a legitimate issue, Cranston would be called in by the office staff.
Most campus visitors have had positive reactions to the system, according to Rancho Verde staff.
“I think, in general, it creates a safer campus,” Cranston said.