Ohio Schools Add ID Scanners to Recognize Visitors on Sex Offender List

Franklin County, Ohio, schools have begun requiring a government-issued photo ID at the door and cross-referencing them against the national sex-offenders’ database.

by Bill Bush, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / September 14, 2016

(TNS) -- The next time you try to visit a public school, don’t leave the house without identification.

Using a state grant, many Franklin County schools now require a government-issued photo ID at the door. The ID is scanned into a device that checks the person against a national sex-offenders’ database and prints out a sticker showing that the person passed the screening. Among the districts with systems in place or about to be employed are Columbus, Reynoldsburg, Bexley and New Albany-Plain Local.

But Dublin City Schools stopped using its ID-scanning system because of problems, including that it was falsely flagging people as being potential sex offenders because they had names similar to those on a national database of convicts.

On Tuesday, Columbus City Schools became the most recent district to add the technology, when the school board accepted a $155,500 grant from the Ohio School Facilities Commission to install “ visitor management systems” in 96 of its schools.

“We still want to have a warm and welcome environment, but this is just another security level that we’re putting on,” said Christopher Ward, director of safety and security for the district.

“What it will actually do is track visitors who are coming to and from our school buildings. We will have a data footprint, if you will, of those who are coming and visiting our students and staff.”

Reynoldsburg City Schools has a similar system up and running this school year.

Parent Megan Noel, 32, scanned her driver’s license in the office at Herbert Mills Elementary, where she has two children enrolled, a first-grader and a preschooler. She appreciates the added security.

“I think it’s fine for safety precautions,” Noel said. “I haven’t had a problem with it.”

Only one parent out of several hundred who visit the Reynoldsburg elementary has complained that the new screening is an invasion of privacy, school secretary Jenny Russell said. Most parents understand that it’s about better protecting their children, she said.

The system cost Reynoldsburg schools about $20,000, which it paid out of district funds, to install the equipment districtwide. It will pay another roughly $6,000 a year as an ongoing licensing fee to use the software, said Nicholas Keisel, director of safety and security for the district.

In the future, the systems might scan identities against other types of offender databases. In Reynoldsburg, in addition to scanning against the sex-offenders’ list, “we can enter our own private alerts,” Keisel said. Examples for its use would be that an adult has a court order or is banned from district property for a specific reason.

It’s possible that a parent could be misidentified as an offender because a name or date of birth closely matches someone on the list.

“What will happen is that it will pop up on the screen if there is a close match,” Keisel said. “ So it will pop up the picture from the sex-offender registry, plus the information side-by-side with the visitor that’s there, and it will ask the secretary: ‘Is this a match?’” If the secretary determines it’s not a match, that person’s ID won’t trigger a match during subsequent visits.

Dublin Schools spokesman Doug Baker said the district stopped using its system last school year.

“Our system searched a national database by name, not any other personally identifiable information. Therefore, if a parent or other school visitor shared the name of a sex offender in that database it would yield a false positive,” Baker said.

After an ID is scanned, most systems record that information on a database until it can be discarded under the district’s state-required records-retention schedule. Records are typically maintained for several years.

Ohio’s School Security Grant Program was created by the state legislature in 2013 to funnel money to school buildings for emergency communication systems and security-entrance systems.

The program has been popular, said Rick Savors, spokesman for the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which administers the grant. Nearly $10.1 million in grants were awarded as of April 2015, and the legislature has appropriated $17 million more for a second round of funding, expanding the program to private and charter schools.

©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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