Wichita school officials demonstrate new Hall Pass visitor security system

08/21/2014 4:43 PM

08/21/2014 4:55 PM

Wichita school officials say a new security system that checks parents and other visitors against a nationwide database of sex offenders should not cause delays or discourage volunteering at schools.

“We know this is something we’re going to have to grow into, which is why we’re rolling it out by feeder pattern,” district spokeswoman Wendy Johnson said Thursday.

“We’re checking one thing: We’re checking registered sex offender databases in all 50 states. That’s it,” she said. “Our concern is not if you have outstanding traffic tickets or if you owe back rent or whatever the case may be.”

District officials demonstrated the new Hall Pass system at Christa McAuliffe Academy, a K-8 school in southeast Wichita, on Thursday. Wichita schools will continue to install the systems this fall, and all schools should be operational by Oct. 2.

Shawn Springer, principal at McAuliffe, showed reporters the new process for signing in, which will apply to anyone who will have access to students.

Any visitor entering a school during bell hours – 7:50 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. at most middle and high schools and 8:50 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. at most elementary schools – will be required to show a driver’s license or other government-issued ID card to the clerk, who will run it through the new system, checking the name and birth date against national sex offender databases.

If the visitor is not on the list, he or she will get a date-specific, adhesive visitor badge that includes the driver’s license photo. Should an unauthorized visitor attempt to enter the school – including parents on the sex offender registry – school leaders and district safety personnel will be alerted.

Frequent visitors may request a key fob to make check-in scanning easier. Visitors with key fobs don’t have to show their licenses every time, but they still must scan the key fob and get an ID badge.

Parents without a license or other comparable ID, including undocumented immigrants, will have their names entered manually into the system and checked to make sure they are listed on the student’s pupil information form, or PIF.

Parents on the sex offender registry can be with their child or meet with teachers but are restricted from interacting with other students, Johnson said.

“They would not be able to walk through the doors and go down to their child’s classroom unaccompanied. They would be chaperoned,” she said. “They likely would not be allowed to sit and read with a group of kids.

“We’re absolutely not denying any individual access to their child’s educational experience, but their experience with that child vs. experience with classmates or the rest of the student body – that’s where the restrictions happen.”

Patricia Hileman, president of the parent-teacher organization at McAuliffe, said signing in has been “a pretty painless process” so far, and she likes the added safety measure.

“If anybody shouldn’t be in the school, it has them thinking twice about not coming,” she said.

“I’ve never felt unsafe. But I do like that the district is taking every step possible,” she said. “You can’t prevent everything, but I like that they’re doing the most that they can. As a mom, I appreciate that.”

Springer said the previous sign-in process for visitors was an “honor system” with no backstops beyond checking whether a person had been authorized by parents to drop off or pick up a student.

“We have little children here – little, vulnerable kids who trust everyone,” he said. “We just want to make sure that whoever is working with our kids is supposed to be working with our kids.”

People who arrive to drop off or pick up a student and will not go beyond the school office will not be scanned, officials said. Neither will district employees wearing an official USD 259 badge, public safety officials with badges, or employees of the YMCA, Communities in Schools, Arts Partners or First Student who wear IDs from their employers.

For more information about the Hall Pass system and a schedule of when schools will implement it, visit www.visitormanagement.usd259.org.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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