New security rules and a new visitor check-in system are coming for people who show up at a Wake County school.
As of July 1, every Wake County school will have a new visitor management system that checks whether visitors are on the sex offender registry list or have custody or trespass orders. There also are proposed new rules that include showing identification to gain admission and being escorted on school grounds.
School leaders say the updated visitor policy and new visitor guidelines are designed to make schools more secure. For instance, visitors would be required to be accompanied to their destination by a staff member, and the principal may assign a person to be with them while they’re at the school.
“We want to make sure that they go where they say they’re going,” Russ Smith, Wake’s senior director of security, said at Tuesday’s policy committee meeting. “We’re not just giving free roam or free access to the building.”
Smith said the requirement to accompany visitors would not apply to volunteers. People have to pass a background check before they can become volunteers.
The guidelines developed by staff do not require board approval.
Standardizing visitor rules
The new visitor guidelines come amid heightened concerns following school shootings around the country, guns being found on school campuses and threats being made against schools.
Instead of installing metal detectors and weapons detectors, a consultant hired by the Wake County school system recommended taking steps such as standardizing how all 200 schools handle visitors.
Based on the reports’ recommendations, Wake opted to use a state school security grant to purchase a new visitor check-in system. Critics such as Republican state Rep. Erin Paré said the district should have used the state funding to get more school resource officers.
The new check-in system will replace the individual systems used by different schools.
Showing identification to visit schools
Proposed new administrative guidelines spell out in far more detail how schools are to handle visitors. Multiple sections talk about visitors needing to show identification to enter a school.
▪ Individuals requesting access beyond the front office or a meeting with a school employee must display a government-issued photo ID, other acceptable identification or school system-issued ID for inspection and to log into the Visitor Management System.
Board member Sam Hershey suggested providing schools with a list of forms of identification that would be acceptable. He also suggested having separate procedures for schools that don’t have a separate vestibule area where visitors wait before they get inside the rest of the school.
▪ People who are visiting the front office to only drop off or pick up an item may be asked to show identification to confirm their identity. But they won’t have to log into the visitor management system.
▪ Parents/guardians who are visiting the front office just to drop off or pick up their children will be required to show identification to confirm their identity. But they won’t have to log into the visitor management system.
▪ First responders, such as law enforcement and health care professionals attending to a medical emergency are exempt from the check-in procedures.
The guidelines would allow principals to waive the sign-in process when lots of visitors need to get cleared in a short period of time, such as to attend an award ceremony,
People with no ID
Visitors without identification whose identities can be determined by the front office may be granted access at the discretion of an administrator. The new guidelines say those visitors must be accompanied by a staff member during their visit.
Smith said they realize that people may show up at a school and not have identification on them.
“The key is to have someone who knows their name and knows he’s supposed to be there,” Smith said.
Board member Tara Waters noted how undocumented families may not have identification or be fearful of sharing identification with schools.
“I just ask to be mindful of our families who have concerns about maybe their status in this country who may have different documentation , making sure that they have access to the school building and their children in a way that honors their connection to the school community,” Waters said.
Alerts on sex offenders
People who want access beyond the school front office would have to sign into the visitor management system, including providing their name, date of birth, the reasons for their visit and their destination. Visitors will get an ID badge, which Smith said is a sticker, that must be worn during the visit.
Before leaving the front office, the guidelines say school administration and/or front office staff “will make a good-faith effort” to verify the visitor’s identity and confirm where they’re going and the purpose of their visit.
If the person’s name matches with a name on the sex offender registry, the visitor won’t be allowed further entry into the school. The system will also alert the district’s Office of Security and law enforcement.
Smith said that the software regularly updates who is on the sex offender registry list. He said the Wake County Sheriff’s Office provides his office with information on domestic orders and custody orders.
Smith’s office maintains trespass orders on people who aren’t allowed to be on school campuses. He said the district’s communication office will launch a campaign to explain the new visitor management system to parents for next school year.