By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Concerns that sexual predators or others with bad intent might find their way onto Rachel Patterson Elementary School’s campus has led RPES officials to obtain an electronic means of tracking the comings and goings of those who visit the school.
The computer-based system — Ident-A-Kid Visitor Management — contains a database that includes the names of all persons who are allowed to check individual pupils into and out of the school, which is believed to be the first in Escambia County with such a system.
Each visitor has to scan his or her driver’s license or state-issued photo ID into the computer to begin the process. Upon scanning of the license, the system searches the federal list of registered sex offenders to make sure the visitor is not on it.
“If somebody comes to check out a student, the person’s driver’s license has to match our computer-based system,” RPES Principal John Brantley said. “If the person is not a parent and does not have a driver’s license or photo ID, that person can no longer check that student out. A parent would have to come to the school to check the student out or to verify that the person is allowed to check the student out.”
The data base will include information on all persons who are authorized to check a child into or out of school. If the person isn’t on the authorization list, he or she will not be allowed to take a child from school. There are further safeguards for sex offenders.
“Every person who visits our school will have to check in with a driver license or an official identification card from the state,” Brantley said. “If someone comes to check a student in or out, and that person is a registered sex offender, the computer sends an email to all office staff and administrators, notifying them that we have a sex offender on campus.”
Brantley said that — once the person enters the reason for his or her visit, scans his or her license and is OK’d —the new safeguard prints a school pass with the person’s name, as well as the date, time and location of the visit and a photo of that person.
The process, which maintains a record of the visit and also stores attendance data, frees up clerical staff to handle other duties instead of having to stop each time a visitor comes to the office.
“Now, when a parent does a check-in or check-out, the system automatically updates the information,” the principal said. “That eliminates a lot of tedious work that our staff has been having to do.”
Brantley said the school was already in a partnership with Ident-A-Kid when a company representative brought up the visitor management system. He and other administrators liked what they saw and heard, especially when they discovered it was compatible with the software already being used to keep tabs on the 500 or so students who attend RPES.
“Dawn Cole gave a brief demonstration of how the system works and the benefits it has,” he said. “But what sold me on it is that this program connects to our student-based program.”
He pointed out that the entire package, including starter hardware, software and a one-year license, cost “right at $4,000.” Most of that was paid for with federal money that is set aside for family engagement programs, he added.
Rachel Patterson Elementary staff are also in the process of drafting and distributing a letter to all parents and guardians, outlining what is expected of them under the new system, which is designed for one primary purpose.
He admitted, though, that there are a few aspects of the new visitor management system that will have to be tweaked to make it a more reliable tool for maintaining attendance and visitor records.
“It’s mainly to help with safety issues,” he said. “You can never be safe enough. Now we’ll know who is in the building at all times. We’re excited about it. We’re finding a few kinks, but it’s a work in progress. We just have to work those kinks out.”
News photo by Don Fletcher