Saturday, September 28, 2013

Welcome, parents!

Our district is about to implement the Raptor Visitor Management System in all its schools. The system, which cost the district $40,000, is designed to enable schools to “keep unwanted visitors out and track those they allow in.” If you want to go into a school, you’ll have to present a government-issued photo ID. The staff will then use the Raptor system to run a background check on you. If you pass the background check, you’ll be issued a badge with your name, photo, and destination on it. If you’re a “potential threat,” though, “the Raptor system sends instant alerts to designated officials, including administrators and law enforcement, via email, text messaging and/or page.”

The Raptor system is part of our district’s many recent “safety” upgrades. I wish I understood how it will make my kids’ schools safer. I can see how it will deter convicted sex offenders from checking in at the front desk, but I don’t see how it will accomplish much else. My guess is that it will be widely ignored, like the current sign-in and sign-out procedure. If not, waiting in a long line of parents undergoing background checks will certainly change the experience of attending school concerts, book fairs, and holiday parties.

A reader writes:
For some parents of our most vulnerable and marginalized children, this seems like it would be a massive disincentive for the kind of parental involvement that could make their school a more welcoming place. If I’m an illegal immigrant, for example, will I be joining my child for lunch, or coming to their school play, if I have to scan a gov’t issued ID? What if I’m a convicted felon (I’m not, by the way!), and don’t want to go through the shame of having the school secretary, and my child’s teacher, know that fact?
The company advertises that the system can “screen for individuals with restraining orders, custody issues, suspended or expelled students, known gang members, or for any custom alert,” though the district tells me it will be used to screen only for sex offenders. Nonetheless, I agree with this reader that Raptor can only be a deterrent to parental involvement. Judging from the company’s website, that’s practically the system’s goal, since all outsiders are potential threats. From one post on the site:
From front door vestibules to visitor management, any adult trying to enter that school would have no doubt that they are being watched and deterred from doing harm on campus. Delays are key, according to security consultant Paul Timm. . . .

Visitor Management is simple and costs a few hundred dollars. It’s a security measure that most kids never notice, but adults will find invasive. And let me tell you- if you’re attempting to get near my kids while they are sitting in a classroom or cafeteria, you had better count on being stopped, watched and recorded every step of the way.
Why are the most authoritarian social trends so quick to find expression in the school system? All security measures are worth whatever they cost and whatever must be sacrificed, regardless of whether they are likely to be effective, because otherwise DANGER! I’d offer to sell the district some magic amulets to ward off evil spirits, but I guess that wouldn’t be very Twenty-First Century of me.

Related post here.


Karen W said...

Alternatively, the school staff could just get to know the adults that visit the school--Oh, you're so-and-so's mom/dad/grandma/sitter/whatever?--and deal with anyone who actually causes a problem at school on a case by case basis.

Also, what about election day?

KD said...

Wow, this is disturbing. I agree it will definitely be a deterrent to parent involvement.

Is this supposed to be a deterrent to stop tragedies like the Sandy Hook shootings from occurring? Simply making some sort of front door screening process isn't going to stop something like that.

What about the slightly disorganized parent that occasionally misplaces her government ID, or left in another purse(this is of course something I would never do:))...would one honestly be denied entrance into the school because of the lack of an ID?

It would be totally impractical to utilize such a system at a school concert.

I'm curious though what happens when a visitor is flagged in the system? Does the school secretary then attempt to deny this person access into the school? It almost seems at this point you've created an even bigger problem, when none may have existed before.

As to your comment about the system being ignored just like other policies are currently, I'd have to agree. One time I entered the junior high to check my daughter out of school early, and not one school employee spoke to me, or asked what I was doing there. If they don't want to greet a visitor why would we think they'd go to the trouble of scanning their IDs?

Chris said...

Karen – Great question. I have to assume that there’s no way they could use Raptor on all the people who come into a school to vote on Election Day. It would be the equivalent of the school district passing its own Voter ID law (except that it would apply only where the polling place is a school, and not at other polling places). Election Day is just another example of how the system will almost certainly be ignored any time it becomes inconvenient.

Case-by-case basis? But that would mean allowing school staff to use their judgment!

Chris said...

KD – As I understand it, you’ll only have to show a government-issued ID the first time you use the system; after that, you’re already in the system. You’ll still need to check in and have the system update its background check on you and get the badge for that day each time you visit, though.

The makers of the system do envision that it will be used at large events like school concerts:

“Most schools have experience with those long lines bottlenecking visitors at special events like a Valentine’s Day party or an awards assembly. Why work all year long to screen visitors and protect students when anyone can enter your campus during heavily attended events? With mobile visitor management devices, one person can walk down the line and quickly and efficiently check parents and visitors” – taking photo IDs and running background checks on everyone! – “through Raptor’s VSoft system using their tablet and a mobile printer right on their hip.”

I agree that it’s very unlikely the schools will go to those lengths. And as you say, what will they do if someone flunks the background check – pull the dangerous person out of the line and alert the authorities (while the rest of the line waits patiently to be checked)?

And of course the system is helpless against first-time offenders, who don’t already have criminal records. How can we sleep at night until the school secretary is running a TSA-style metal-detector/pat-down/bag-check and monitoring security cameras in every room?

Unknown said...

Back in the day, the school was the second building in a new town--the church was first, unless the school was used as a church on Sundays. I kind of like the idea that schools are places for community gathering.

BUT, here's my real comment: Whenever I read about this new system, I just smile. Today, I had to drop something off at South East JR High for my daughter and the front doors are propped open. Wide. Several of them.

Granted, the office is right inside the door, and I am sure the reason the doors are open is because the school lacks air-conditioning so the open doors create some sort of cross breeze. Still, I like the kind of welcoming look of the entrance with the doors open like that. It looks less like a prison (which lots of schools look like these days). I imagine even the students like the glimpse of outside as they pass between classes. I hope no one from South East's administration reads this and pulls the doors shut.

If this is a deterrent in light of the Sandy Hook shootings, it is funny that security is what the focus is, rather than considering how we as a society can better care for and help our young people not feel so alienated; or how we can make sure mental health resources are as abundant as spirit t-shirts in any school. Or how we can move to making kids see schools are places of community rather than locked-down wards.