February 19, 2014 - In an ongoing effort to ensure Oxford schools are as safe as possible, parents, volunteers and all visitors will be required to offer up their state-issued identification in the front office and have it scanned for an electronic background check using the SchoolGate Guardian System.
According to Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources Nancy Latowski, SchoolGate Guardian runs an instant complete background check including registered sex offender search, custody issue alerts, restraining order warnings and protection from abuse order checks. If there is an alert that would cause concern, Latowski said the administrative assistant would work through that issue with the individual.
"What we don't want is someone wandering in the building during the school day that is on the sex offender registry," she said. "It's got an alert system so it would immediately contact key people like the principal or at the high school we could have the security officers notified if there is anything that is suspicious in the office and they need immediate help with."
"Right now the buildings have sign in sheets and so forth, but we don't have that instant (background) check," Latowski continued. "It's an added measure to ensure safety as much as we can possibly do in the most efficient way possible. It's convenient and it just requires seeing ID."
School officials anticipate the check-in will take approximately the same amount of time as it takes to use a sign-in sheet or the Ident-A-Kid system. However, for certain folks who frequent buildings on a regular basis, they will be issued a key tag that they can scan and will check them in, but the key tag still goes through the background check once scanned.
"The majority of the use will be during school hours while the students are in the building (and) in the classroom," Latowski noted.
When asked if the staff members or students would have to check-in using the SchoolGate Guardian, Latowksi said "no."
"This will be not be used for staff members, because when we submit state reports, those records are re-run through the data bases of the FBI and state criminal records every time we submit a particular report, which is numerous times per year," she said. "Obviously, (with) students we are not checking them."
What's the cost?
The cost of the system is approximately $1,350 per building, which includes an installation and set-up price of $1,295 as well as a training fee cost of $50. The total cost for all schools would be approximately $13,500. There will also be a yearly program maintenance fee of $400 per building.
However, Latowski noted that most of the Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) at the elementary schools raised funds to cover the full amount of the initial setup and training fee costs, and the middle school raised some which will offset what comes out of the school's budget. It was the PTO's generous contributions that allowed the schools to immediately implement the new check-in system, rather than having to wait for a new budget year, she said.
"It's definitely . . . a good investment for the safety of our students," she said. "It also was a very nice way for our Parent Teacher Organizations to contribute to that effort."
A letter informing parents of the new system was sent out Feb. 10. "I would assume most parents would be happy of the extra measure that is being taken just to ensure student safety," Latowski said.
What do parents think?
All parents who responded to the Leader's Facebook question concerning the new system were positive. Former Oxford resident Maria Martin said SchoolGate Guardian is used at the schools by her in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
"It is an outstanding (system). It fits in with the current system used by Oxford Schools and actually makes sign-in faster," she wrote. "As a parent I am very pleased with the system - The system has photographs that appear so the secretary can make an immediate identification of the person in front of them to clear them as quickly as possible."
However, Martin did note that "difficulty comes in when a name is red flagged and there is an offender with the same name."
"The people in the line waiting to sign-in get to hear the whole discussion and somehow parents seem to think the worst of that parent who has been red flagged," she added. "This did not happen to me, but (to) another parent at the school my daughter attends. I felt very sorry for him, but relieved at the same time that offenders get stopped at the front door."
Roxanne Rooen said "safer the better"
Danielle Earles agreed.
"Anything to make the schools safer is a good idea," she said.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.