The days of visitors signing a guestbook to enter Modesto City Schools campuses are over. Beginning Aug. 19, they’ll have to provide a valid photo ID to office staff, which will scan names against registries of sex offenders nationwide.
The new measure — given a pilot run at five schools last academic year — “enhances campus safety by providing a consistent system to track visitors and volunteers, while identifying people who may present a danger to students and staff,” the district said in a Facebook post.
The system, by Raptor Technologies, is similar to one fully implemented in Modesto’s Sylvan Union School District in academic year 2017-18. That one is from KeepnTrack. Both print an adhesive badge that includes the visitor’s name, photo and destination. The badge must be worn until the visitor checks back out.
At Franklin Elementary School on Thursday morning, an office employee asked district staff how the scanning — of photo ID including driver’s licenses, state ID cards, military ID, permanent resident cards and passports — would work during something like back-to-school night, when family members are pouring through the office.
Officials replied that Raptor would not be used in such instances, or at events like basketball and volleyball games in high school gyms. It’s strictly to keep track of visitors coming onto campuses during normal school hours.
Both MCS and Sylvan officials note that the security scanners link only to sex-offender databases and do not do complete criminal background checks. Tim Zearley, associate superintendent overseeing business services for MCS, called Raptor “an additional layer of our security features that will enhance our school safety for not only our students, but our staff.”
Not only visitors like classroom volunteers and parents use the scanning systems. So will district employees. They won’t need a sticker if they wear a visible employee badge, but they need to be entered into the system when they visit a school, MCS officials said. Zearley and Carrie Albert, director of student services and child welfare for Sylvan, said that’s because the scanning systems have a second and equally important purpose: keeping real-time records of who is where during a time of emergency.
Say there’s a need to locate a nurse or psychologist who visits several campuses, Albert said. A quick search of the KeepnTrack network will show where that employee has checked in, and when. The time the employee checks out at a campus also is recorded.
This will aid first responders
“Our first responders said, ‘One of the things we’re going to ask you if anything happens is who is on the campus right now?’ ” Albert said. A paper guestbook might not be available — perhaps it’s in an office already evacuated because of fire. “But now by having it electronically, we can pull it up at the district office or you can go into any of the other computers we can pull up,” she said.
In light of the school shootings and similar other tragedies across the country, districts must be prepared for emergency lockdown situations, Zearley said. “We need to know who is authorized to be on our campuses and who’s on our campuses in the event of an evacuation or, or just know where people are, and this starts with the superintendent, associate superintendents, assistant superintendents. Anybody going to a school site will be asked to check in.”
Modesto police Capt. Brian Findlen said his department has worked closely with Modesto schools and appreciates the use of the ID-scanning technology. During criminal incidents and other emergencies, the information the systems provide is incredibly useful, he said.
Both districts have had “hits” — visitors who appear on a sex offender database. But the people were in compliance and had a legitimate reason to be on the campuses they were visiting.
“So if you’re somebody who does have the right to be on the campus, as long as we know about it, then what we do is we just monitor that person,” Albert said. “So we’re not going to escort you, but if you’re going to go into an assembly, we’re going to make sure that a staff member has eyes on you to make sure that you’re not going in restrooms with students or you’re not going off alone with students. We allow you to be on campus, but we just have a higher situational awareness and ability to make sure that we know where you are.”
She and Zearley said they know of no hits that escalated to hostile confrontations between office staff and visitors. Speaking about MCS staff, Zearley said they already were trained on how to handle conflict in the front office and have received training — or will — on what to do in the event of a positive identification.
Visitors have been receptive
Mark Herbst, assistant superintendent overseeing special education, said the MCS pilot campuses — three elementary, one middle and one high school — have reported that visitors were “very, very receptive” to the new security measure.
The pilot schools were chosen to give a good cross-section of the district. One has a preschool program on the far side of campus, which brings all those parents through the main school office. Another has an “open plan” that includes a high level of parent participation in classrooms.
“And one of the concerns that we initially had was how is this going to be received in our immigrant families or those that don’t have documentation,” Zearley said. “And so for one of the schools we piloted that I was concerned about, we said, you know, let’s watch the response.”
Raptor is used in schools in El Centro, on the Mexican border, he said, so there is awareness and experience with undocumented families or people who do not want to provide documentation. “So after speaking to them, we were very comfortable, we felt that they would understand the needs of our community.”
In the event a school visitor has no scanable documentation, the district said, Raptor allows for manual entry of information — full name and date of birth — for screening purposes.
When Modesto City Schools announced the ID screening on Facebook, some parents asked how effective it can be on campuses that haven’t been restricted to one point of entry. Sylvan Union, with only elementary and middle schools, now has a single point of entry on all its campuses. MCS still is working on it.
Of the 34 schools now with Raptor, 13 have single-point entry, Zearley said, and work will begin at seven more during this school year. But Measure D and E bond dollars are for only elementary and middle schools, he said. The sprawling high schools are another matter, and “clearly, Modesto high is our biggest challenge, with its two campuses where the road (H Street) is in the middle of it. But believe it or not, Modesto High is under a master plan right now to see what we can do and at what cost.”
On the subject of cost, MCS will pay $540 per year per campus for Raptor monitoring. To bring online this year the 29 schools not already piloting the program cost $50,000, Zearley said. “The first year is more because we had to buy the hardware, we had to buy access to the database and get training,” he said.