As a new decade dawns, Eugene School District 4J is upgrading its visitor sign-in technology with a system that requires people to scan their government issued IDs for instant background checks.
This is one among several safety and security improvements, but the local teacher’s union questions the new system and the district’s safety priorities.
The changes are funded by a $370,000 federal grant from the School Violence Prevention Program. The grant supports emergency planning, district-wide safety assessments and the new visitor sign-in technology.
Kari Skinner, director of public safety for 4J, is leading the charge for the security improvements. She says 4J was the only school district in Oregon to receive the SVPP grant. With part of the grant, Skinner says the district will send a contractor to complete a vulnerability assessment to see how well buildings would fare in emergencies and what changes need to be made.
The district also plans to update digital drawings of sites to increase information and specificity, Skinner says.
“We want to have digital floor plans to capture how to shut off a boiler room if you are a layperson,” she says. These plans will also be available to first responders.
One of the most notable changes is a new visitor and volunteer management system from Raptor Technologies, a nationwide company that produces school safety software. This new system will digitize and streamline the background check process for those who visit the school.
“What we currently have is not adequate,” Skinner says. “There are a lot of open holes because of open source internet check.”
The system requires visitors to give their government issued identification to the person working at the front desk. Once the ID is scanned, the system filters through state databases to flag custody alerts or if someone is a sex offender.
Some education officials are questioning the system.
Sabrina Gordon, president of the Eugene Education Association (EEA), says she hopes that it doesn’t deter families from being involved.
“Our biggest question is how is this going to present a roadblock for family engagement at school,” Gordon says.
For those who do not have a government issued or an international form of ID, Skinner says the visitor can provide their name and date of birth to create alternative identification information.
“Once they are approved, just like anyone else, they would have access. Unless you have committed a crime and were convicted, you would have access,” Skinner says.
District spokesperson Kerry Delf says that although the system is an advancement in technology, the district already performs thorough background checks, which prevents some from volunteering.
“The point is to have a better and good, effective system,” Delf says.
Skinner says that state education departments often have different criteria for allowing someone to volunteer in a school.
Oregon state laws list specific crimes — called “forever crimes” — that prevent someone from working in a school. Almost 70 crimes are listed in the statute, including sexual assault, manufacturing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school and bigamy.
Forever crimes vary in different states, but the Raptor Technologies system would streamline these records, making the information more accessible.
Because personal data will come up, Skinner says the district coordinator within 4J’s HR department will be the point person for all of the information.
“The school sites don’t find out why you were denied,” Skinner says. “We also don’t share that information with law enforcement.”
Gordon says that although she is glad the district is being proactive with safety, the lack of mental health services is more of a threat to safety than anything.
“Whether it’s somebody from outside, or a student from inside the building is likely to be an issue. This is far more pressing and frightening to teachers right now,” she says.
Gordon says many students are struggling with trauma and are exhibiting behavioral needs, but classrooms and teachers lack the resources to help and often that escalates into safety issues.
“It’s really sad that has become part of the job description as an educator to prepare for threats coming outside,” Gordon says.
As for the new sign-in system, Gordon reiterates that the EEA is most concerned with how this affects volunteers and visitors.
“We know we have families that, for various reasons, cannot connect with the school. Yet we are a public school, we serve all of our students and want to have connections with our families,” she says.