CT Schools mull computer background checks on visitors

BRIDGEPORT CT Oct 14 2014 — A proposal to keep sex offenders and other criminals out of city schools by doing instant background checks and issuing photo IDs to all visitors could well be jettisoned before it is even tried.

Parents, members of the public and even school board members expressed concern that instead of keeping students safe, the system would become a deterrent to parent involvement for individuals who are undocumented, have pasts they want to put behind them or who worry about personal information being collected and stored by the school.

“What I am hearing as a parent, this is going to be a big problem in our district,” Tammy Boyle, president of the District Parent Advisory Council, said. “I can guarantee you if this is anywhere pertaining to what it seems like … it is going to be a problem.”

The idea, according to Police Lt. Paul Grech, who oversees school district security, is to create a visitor access system that is better than simply asking visitors to sign in and wear a green visitor sticker.

“We’re committed to further ensuring our kids are safeguarded against sex offenders at school,” Grech said. “This system helps us do just that by using 21st century technology.”

He told members of the school board’s security committee this week that the Fast Pass system — as it is known — is a tool other districts are turning to.

Using a portion of a $1.4 million school security grant the district received from the state following the December 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting that killed 20 first graders and six adults, the plan would require all visitors to a city school to show identification or give their name, which would be entered into a computer.

The computer would conduct instant background checks, and a printer would print out a temporary picture ID with the date, time and location.

About $20,000 would be enough to equip three schools with the system. Of that, $4,000 would come from the city.

Grech wants to try the system out first at the Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Campus, work out the bugs, and then bring it to the city’s other high schools.

The system could be customized to collect as much, or as little information, as the board wants, said James Denton, a supervisor of school security. In the case of evacuation, it would also tell officials who was in the building.

“It is a way to give security guards … another tool on their belt,” Denton said.

Now in place
All 37 school buildings in the district have one or more security guards and share about a dozen school police officers, according to officials.

There are also security cameras in and around schools, but not enough. Board member Dave Hennessey said he wishes instead of a visitor access system, the state grant money could be applied to more pressing needs, like extra guards and security cameras for the 1,200 student Cesar Batalla School.

District schools have locked doors and a buzzer entry system. Since Sandy Hook, security guards began asking to see identification of visitors.

“The last thing we want is parents to feel that the police are going to come get them,” said Hernan Illingworth, a school board member.

“We need to do a better job of keeping our children safe,” Illingworth said.

At Central High School, which his daughter attends, Illingworth said even with security guards and metal detectors at the front entrance, people seem to be able to wander the hallways unchecked.

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