Education

New school security system rolling out in Cedar Rapids district

Government-issued IDs will be scanned at main offices to flag sex offenders

Volunteer coordinator Joni Salazar explains the Raptor visitor management system at Kenwood Leadership Academy in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Photo identification cards are inserted in the scanner at right, and volunteers can complete an application form using the iPad. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Volunteer coordinator Joni Salazar explains the Raptor visitor management system at Kenwood Leadership Academy in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Photo identification cards are inserted in the scanner at right, and volunteers can complete an application form using the iPad. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Adults hoping to visit schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District soon will need to scan a government-issued ID to go beyond the main office.

The district’s new visitor management system is “all about safety,” said David Brandon, the principal of Kenwood Leadership Academy, an elementary school that piloted the system.

Rather than sign in on a sheet of paper, visitors and volunteers are required to scan an ID, such as a driver’s license, in the main office. The new security system collects a name, date of birth and photo from the ID.

Piloted at Kenwood and Harrison elementaries in December, eight more elementary schools — Coolidge, Erskine, Gibson, Grant, Grant Wood, Hiawatha, Nixon and Truman — introduced the system this month.

The digital security system cost about $47,850 to implement in all elementary schools, district spokeswoman Akwi Nji said. The district used dollars from the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education tax and Physical Plant and Equipment Levy.

Middle and high schools in the district are slated to have the scanners in place by August.

The system, from Houston-based Raptor Technologies, checks visitors and volunteers against sex offender registries.

“It’s for the protection of students and staff, and we’re thinking of that first,” said Joni Salazar, Kenwood’s volunteer coordinator. “It’s really not an inconvenience. (Some parents might) need to be reassured we’re not going to do anything with their driver’s license, but it spits it right back out. It’s easy and fast.”

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Similar systems are “becoming more and more common,” Nji said. Cedar Rapids district officials visited Waterloo schools to familiarize themselves with the Raptor system, and College Community School District in Linn County uses a comparable system called KeepnTrack.

In Cedar Rapids schools, because some visitors could be wary of scanning an ID “especially in the context of our cultural, social and political climate,” staff trainings on the system have explicitly addressed those anxieties, Nji said in a news release.

For adults who do not provide a state-issued ID, schools can create a “visitor approved ID” — which looks like a business card and includes a name, date of birth and photo.

At Kenwood, Principal Brandon said they have not needed to use the alternative IDs yet.

“We have an (English language learner) population where we serve 30 countries and 28 languages,” he said. “I think it really is about what kind of culture you’ve built in your school — are you welcoming when they walk in the door, do they trust you?”

Emphasizing that the new check-in system — which takes less than a minute to complete — is for student safety has made it well-received, he added.

“It’s habit now,” he said. “People walk in and hand us their ID. They trust us.”

While sex offenses are now automatically reviewed, volunteers still are expected to self-disclose felonies, which would trigger a manual background check from the district. An automatic background check on all volunteers would add a significant cost, Nji said.

Anyone, especially a parent, who is flagged for a sex offense or felony is considered on a case-by-case basis. Nji and Brandon said principals have discretion dealing with sex offenders, while anyone with a felony record needs approval from district administration to be in a school.

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“If a sex offender came through,” Brandon said, “I would sit down with that person and set clear guidelines — let them know they’re with their kid and no other kids.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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