Visitors face more security at West Chester schools

Posted: February 04, 2014

WEST CHESTER Starting Monday, visitors at the West Chester Area School District's 16 schools should plan to spend a little more time at the front desk.

Gone are the days of writing your name on a sheet of paper, sticking a patch to your shirt, and being on your way.

The district's schools will join about 300 others throughout the state, including roughly 200 in the Philadelphia area, that have implemented the Raptor security system, which is meant to better regulate who walks into schools.

The Web-based software uses visitors' driver's licenses - or other government ID cards - to instantly screen visitors for sex offenses, keep an electronic log of visitors, and issue visitor badges with names, pictures, and reasons for the visit.

"We're trying to be proactive in regards to our students' safety, and that includes monitoring who comes in our buildings," said Sara Missett, a West Chester district administrator.

Several local schools using the system echoed this motivation and said hearing about school shootings in recent years have spurred them to update security measures, including how they handle visitors.

West Chester's district funds will pay for the new system, which costs $1,600 per building in the first year and then $480 annually per building.

About 200 schools in Pennsylvania have told Raptor they will buy its visitor management system once they get the safe schools grants that the state Education Department said it will award in mid-February. Each school organization can get a maximum grant of $25,000 for school-violence safeguards, which include visitor-identification systems.

More than 10,000 schools across the country use the Raptor system, which has identified more than 11,000 registered sex offenders attempting to enter schools in the last decade, said Jim Vesterman, CEO of Raptor Technologies.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District started using the system in August. There have been "a few" catches so far, some of which the district already knew about, Superintendent John Sanville said.

The school has plans for dealing with alerts on the system, but Sanville declined to be more specific for security reasons.

"We do practice alerts much like you do practice fire drills," he said. The district plans to evaluate the system's effectiveness at the end of the year.

Complaints from visitors have died down since the start of the school year, and feedback is mostly positive now, Sanville said.

The Great Valley School District is in its third year of using the system, and "it's become second nature now," Superintendent Alan Lonoconus said.

Every once in a while, a school visitor doesn't want to provide ID. "They have the option to stay or leave," he said.

He said the system hasn't caught anyone yet, but its presence gives parents peace of mind.

The Coatesville Area School District plans to start using the system in a few months as part of its initiative for security upgrades, which also includes bullet-resistant glass in school entrances.

"You might find some inconveniences of doors being extremely secured," interim Superintendent Leonard Fitts told people at Tuesday's school board meeting. "We want to make sure our schools are safe."

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

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