Valley schools are checking visitors for history of sex crimes

San Joaquin Valley Story - Raptor Visitor Management System

This article originally appeared in the Fresno Bee, and was written by Makenzie Mays. To view the original article, click here.

FRESNO, CA – Some central San Joaquin Valley schools are using software that instantly notifies administrators if a sex offender is on campus.

The Raptor visitor management system scans school visitors’ driver’s licenses and other forms of identification to check if they are registered sex offenders. Nearly 2,000 registered sex offenders are living in Fresno County, according to the California Department of Justice database. In the city of Fresno, there are about 1,200.

Select schools in Sanger, Selma, Parlier and Lemoore have started using the system. Valley Prep Academy, a charter school that installed it last year, is the only school in Fresno using the check-in technology.

“We’ve had people come on campus – or parents sometimes – where there’s something that pops up, and we stop them in the office instead of allowing them in so that we don’t have any situations that could’ve been avoided,” said Corrie Sands, director of Valley Prep. “It’s very rare, but it’s just nice to know – to not be blindsided.”

Brynn Taylor, a mother of two students at Valley Prep, recently moved to Fresno from out of state. Taylor said the extra precaution is appreciated.

“It’s another measure that keeps my children safe,” she said. “Especially with school shootings that have taken place more frequently over the years.”

The program – which can scan passports, green cards and Mexican consulate IDs for information – also can detect restraining orders and known gang members, and flag school staff about parental custody issues when a student is being picked up.

After a visitor has been cleared, a badge is printed with the visitor’s name, photo and destination.

Raptor also can track student attendance.

Selma High School Principal Mark Babiarz also implemented the program this year. He said it has improved on the pen-and-paper visitor check-in system of the past, allowing a more accurate database of who is in the school. In Selma Unified, any offender who is identified will likely still be allowed on campus – but will be accompanied by an escort.

“Our method of just having them fill out a pass saying they’re a guest, to me, wasn’t safe enough. Before, you just signed in, but I didn’t know if you had any sort of background,” Babiarz said.

“School safety is a continuous process. It’s a big responsibility, and we don’t take it lightly. It takes all of us to make that effort, but realize ultimately, the tragedies that have happened were in very secure places. (Sandy Hook Elementary’s) check-in system was better than the bank’s.”

In 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the Connecticut elementary school, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Several Sanger Unified schools are using the system. The district’s director of support services, Kevin Edwards, said that, as with many safety precautions, just knowing it’s there can change the school environment.

“We’ve stopped a couple of people, but for the most part, it’s just that additional layer of security and that peace of mind for our parents to know that we take this threat seriously,” Edwards said. “We’re going to do what we can and what makes sense, given the makeup of our community.”

Local districts paid $2,000 to $4,000 to have the technology installed, plus a yearly fee that varies by school.

Megan’s Law requires the state to identify sex offenders and list their addresses for the public. Seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered in 1994 in New Jersey by her neighbor, who had a history of sexually assaulting young girls.

State law also requires many school volunteers and student chaperones to undergo fingerprinting for background checks.

While the Raptor program serves as an extra precaution, awareness of how child predators operate is the most effective prevention tactic, according to Esther Franco, director of the Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention.

A majority of children are molested by a family member or someone they know well, and a known sex offender looking for victims likely isn’t going to come through the front door of a school and volunteer his or her ID, Franco said. According to the council, 13 school employees in the Valley have been arrested on child molestation charges in the past four years.

“(Raptor) is definitely taking some precaution, but really, in terms of sexual predators, they’re going to pick professions where they have access to children. Ninety percent of cases are by someone the child knows, loves and trusts,” Franco said.

“Parents need training so they know how child sexual abuse happens. It is 100 percent preventable. If we can predict it, we can prevent it.”