Kentucky School Enhances Security Electronically
- By Linda L. Briggs
With security an increasing concern for school districts, the weakest link can be the front entryway. How can schools offer a visitor-friendly school environment that is also secure from unwanted individuals?
Walton-Verona Elementary School rolled out an electronic visitor check-in system in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at Virginia Tech. That coincidental timing has led to lots of calls from colleagues in education elsewhere who are interested in the solution, according to Principal Thomas D. Williams. The school, in Verona, KY, has about 750 students.
With the software, called School Check IN, visitors no longer sign in and out on a paper form at the front desk each time they arrive at Walton-Verona to make a delivery, give a presentation, volunteer, attend an event, pick up a child, or meet with a teacher. Instead, they sign in to an online computer to register their arrival and have their identities verified against school and national databases.
Pre-Screening Visitors: Automation and Alerts
The software is from School Check IN, a Tampa, Florida-based company. Walton-Verona Elementary is using three separate modules for electronically verifying the identity of anyone who enters the school grounds. The main module, Check IN, works like an electronic sign-in sheet, instantly checking the background of visitors. A second module, Offender CHECK, checks that a visitor isn't a registered sex offender. The third module, Bio CHECK, uses a fingerprint identification system to admit students, teachers, staff, and pre-screened visitors.
The district spent $1,500 on the solution, including the software license and fingerprint scanning hardware. School Check IN requires an online computer for visitors to access, with mouse, keyboard, and a label printer. The software cannot be networked; only a single version runs on one computer. In addition, Walton-Verona is paying an ongoing licensing fee of $250 a year. The school had brief problems initially using the system wirelessly, but has since moved to a wired connection and has had no further issues. "It's been a great investment," according to Williams.
The Check IN and Offender CHECK modules are designed to screen any repeat visitors who may be around children, including volunteers, workers, and service people. They require visitors to initially scan a driver's license through the system's card reader. Using basic name and address data from the driver's license, the system immediately checks the national sex offender registry. It also runs the name against a school-maintained database to see if a visitor is an ex-employee, a parent with a restraining order against visiting a student, or someone with a court order or injunction who is barred from visiting the school.
If the system flags a visitor for any reason, it automatically and privately alerts front office staff and administrators.
Once the visitor is cleared, the system prints out a temporary badge displaying a photograph, name, date, time, and purpose of the visit. When leaving, the visitor returns to the school's check-in station, clicks on the "visitors" icon, locates his or her name and signs out.
Student and Staff Tracking
The security system is also used by Walton-Verona to help track when students and teachers come and go. Teachers, staff and students pre-register with the system by having their right and left index fingers scanned. When they arrive or leave, they scan a finger. The system checks that image against a mathematical logarithm of their fingerprints in a database. The process is fast--just two seconds per person--and prevents students from logging in for each other.
For "early dismissal" requests, the system can verify who is picking up the student, and whether that student is on an approved list. At the front desk, a parent can present an ID and sign the student out in a single step.
As an added bonus, the software can also monitor how much time any visitor, whether a delivery person or parent, has been at the school. That helps in tracking parent volunteers at the school, for example, since the system records when they arrive and leave. "With our parent volunteers, it tracks all their hours, which is a nice feature," Williams said.
School Check IN offers a free, fully functional 21-day demonstration version for Mac OS X and Windows that can be downloaded from the company's website.
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About the author: Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, CA.
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