Watertown Schools Implement New Safety System for Visitor Check-Ins

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WATERTOWN — Gone are the days of signing in to buildings in the Watertown City School District with pen and paper.

Starting this school year, visitors will experience a new way of signing in and being vetted before being allowed to access the main parts of the schools.

The district now uses the Raptor Visitor Management System in all schools to strengthen campus safety for students and staff. Part of keeping students and staff safe is knowing who is in the buildings at all times, and the Raptor system will allow the district to do that more efficiently, according to district officials.

The new system will electronically sign in and sign out visitors, print visitor badges, screen everyone against the National Sex Offender Registry, and provide real-time offender alerts.

The Raptor system checks the visitor’s name and date of birth for comparison with a national database of registered sex offenders, the only official database checked by the Raptor system. No other data from the ID is gathered or recorded and the information is not shared with any outside agency. The Raptor system will also check for court-issued custodial orders, restraining orders and other custom alerts as established by the district.

“Toward the end of the school year, we had a person in that community that was 18, who would look like a high school student, that came into the high school and shouldn’t have been there,” said Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr. “I think it would prevent anyone that’s not supposed to be there but looks maybe like the age group. All of the contractors too, there’s a whole vetting process for that. If the system flags anything, someone gives information that pulls up a file of someone that isn’t them, staff are instructed what to do and there are systems in place for what to do next in terms of things like custody disputes.”

Mrs. LaBarr, who is retiring Aug. 31, said the district is going to start pushing messages out on ParentSquare about the Raptor system within the next week, and there is information about it on the district’s website along with the district safety plan.

When visitors approach a main entrance to the buildings, they’ll press the buzzer attached to an outdoor camera and will be asked why they are visiting. Upon answering, they’ll be buzzed in through an initial set of doors and enter a secure vestibule. Visitors will then be asked to present a photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport. The ID will either be scanned or manually entered into the system at a secure transaction window in the vestibule.

Once cleared, visitors will proceed to the main office to retrieve their ID and a preprinted badge with their photo on it, along with their destination. They will then be directed to their destination and must wear their printed badge at all times while in the building. When leaving the building, visitors are required to return to the main office, turn in their badge and sign out.

If a parent or guardian for any reason does not have a U.S. government-issued ID, the school staff member can use an alternate photo ID. In this case, the visitor must present their nongovernment photo ID as well as a second ID with their name on it, such as a bank card or credit card. As long as the district has two forms of identification, one with a photo, they can manually enter the person’s name into the Raptor system. If a visitor does not have a valid form of ID that the district accepts, or they refuse to present their ID, no access to the building will be allowed.

For parents or guardians just dropping off something for their child at the office, the same process will be followed, but a visitor’s badge will not be necessary for those who visit schools simply to drop off an item in the office or pick up paperwork as they will be expected to immediately vacate the building.

“When I first started in this position it took State ED two years to approve the plan,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “So it’s been in the making for five years, we’re almost finished with it now. I would say the majority of the work has happened in the last two years.”

With the first day of school Sept. 6, staff who will be at the screening stations will be coming in before school starts to train and get used to the new system. While all schools will use the Raptor system, Starbuck and Ohio elementary schools do not have a secure vestibule for check-ins, so workarounds will be implemented to maintain safety during the process.

The Raptor system, coming in at an estimated $25,000, was paid for as part of a $3.6 million grant from the state’s Smart Schools Bond Act, one of several security measures implemented with the funding.

Other measures include updated phone systems that alert select district personnel by text and email when 911 is dialed and provide locations so personnel can check out the scene quickly; and blue lights throughout the buildings and outside so if the school is on lockdown or there’s an emergency, the lights will notify those in the buildings. Doors shut automatically when this is triggered, and when the blue lights come on, it sends out alerts via text and email, and the intercom system is tied to it. There are also panic buttons that automatically connect to 911 throughout the district.

Mrs. LaBarr said all the doors in every building have also been numbered as part of the district’s safety initiative, starting with the main door at one and going clockwise around the building, which can help to locate people based on what number door they’re near. Mrs. LaBarr also noted that if a door is ajar, alarms will sound after a certain amount of time, and texts and emails will be sent out to critical people like the school resource officer, building principals and maintenance staff.

“All the doors are now in lockdown, so you can’t enter in and out without an employee that has a badge,” said Jeffrey A. Wood, the district’s director of technology, cyber security and innovation. “The main entrance is the only place that visitors can be let in. After-school events, we’re not going to screen everybody because it would be monumental, so it’s generally when the children are in session. If there’s an event during the day though we plan on having like getting a list of who’s going to attend to pre screen.”

Mr. Wood said that all the doors are locked during the day with the exception at the schools during arrival and dismissal.

Students filter through main doors and whenever that happens, there are staff stationed from the district at those doors monitoring who’s coming. Parents must come and be signed in and once arrival has finished, everybody, with the exception of staff, is expected to come through the main doors to check in.

With the district’s upgraded intercom systems, announcements can now be made over the phones, located throughout the buildings. For those who can’t hear the announcements, the blue lights will also flash in public spaces to alert those around to whatever is going on. The district has also had Wi-Fi upgrades that can allow for law enforcement to get on and look at the camera systems while out in the parking lots.

“Like anything that’s new to a district, there’s always growing pains,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “It’s a new process for people and we understand that when there’s a change, sometimes it’s uncomfortable for people, but if we keep the focus that this is for students safe safety, that should end any discussion.”