A-C Valley schools add instant Megan’s Law checks at door

Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District parents are being introduced to a new process of dropping off and picking up their children due to new security measures.

All visitors, meaning anyone without an A-C Valley employee badge, will have their identification scanned to ensure they are not a security threat.

The system comes from Raptor Technology and was paid for with a grant from the National Rifle Association School Shield program.

All items included, such as the identification scanner, badge printer and software access, cost $4,348.

Although the school district didn’t have many security issues in the past, Superintendent David McDeavitt believes the security system will help prevent the potential for dangerous situations.

Adding the security vestibule at the entrances of the elementary and high schools does disrupt a long tradition of parents walking their children to the classrooms.

McDeavitt anticipated breaking the tradition would be a challenge, but he said parents accepted the change and he didn’t receive any complaints.

Each security vestibule, which is furnished with chairs, also acts as a waiting area for people picking up students.

A-C Valley Director of Education Melissa Douglas said the security vestibules have made traffic coming in both buildings much smoother.

“It has eliminated piles of people in the front of the school and created a designated place for parents to wait when picking up their child,” Douglas said.

The security vestibules are used strictly through the school day but are not utilized in the evening and during events.

Identification scan

Beginning on the first day of the school year, parents and visitors were forced to enter into a security vestibule where they are routed to a window to the main office.

The visitors are asked the purpose of their visit and for their driver’s license or state-issued identification.

The individual’s information is run through the state’s system of Megan’s Law offenders; people listed there would be denied entrance to school buildings.

Megan’s Law requires state police to create and maintain a registry of people who live, work or attend school and have been convicted a sexual crime in Pennsylvania.

When a person’s identification is scanned, the secretary’s computer screen populates the person’s date of birth, partial license number and photo for comparison with a national database of registered sex offenders. Additional visitor information is not gathered and no data is shared with any outside company or organization.

If a match is found, campus administrators and law enforcement personnel can take appropriate steps to keep the campus safe.

The district was made aware the system works when a visitor – someone who regularly works with the students – got flagged while being checked in.

As it turned out, the person’s name was similar to someone registered on the Megan’s Law list. After the person was verified as not being on the list, they were allowed access to the building.

A-C Valley’s procedural guide to the Raptor system does point out sexual predators/offenders could be relatives of one of the students.

In that situation, unless the individual is wanted by police and as long as they have a legitimate reason to be on campus, the school cannot automatically deny entrance to the building.

However, such individuals should only be given limited access and should be accompanied at all times by an adult representative of the school.

If a person refuses to show identification, they can be denied entrance. Administration does have the ability to make a discretionary decision based on the knowledge of the person and the situation.

If a person is refused access to the facility and/or student, at the administration’s discretion, the student and visitor can meet in the office.

The district also has the capability to make notes of custody situations.

McDeavitt said this is good to have, as it draws administration’s attention to situations dealing with court orders. This is still being worked on within the district.

“The identification checker is a step in the right direction; not an end-all, cure-all,” McDeavitt said. “We do what we can to increase our safety.”

Additional safety

For everyone’s safety, each classroom in the district is equipped with Barracuda Intruder Defense systems, which prevents anyone on the outside from opening a door.

Each classroom’s window is also blocked with pieces of paper for security purposes.

If a situation occurs at either school, Guardian Protection Services is notified as well as local and state police.

When applying for the grant, Douglas said the district also applied for metal detectors but did not receive the funding.

Despite not having metal detectors, the district is equipped with handheld metal detectors in case certain situations occur.

Several months ago, the school board was faced with the decision of whether to hire security officers at the district.

The hiring of security officers was turned down due to financial concerns. “It’s hard to justify adding officers when we don’t have a lot of crime or violence,” McDeavitt said.

The district, he said, is continuing to explore grant options and will follow up with the discussion at a later time.

McDeavitt said he hopes the school will one day have security officers, but it depends on grants and the support of the school board.

Despite the decision to not add additional security, McDeavitt rhetorically asked, “How can you put a dollar figure on safety?

“If we want to prevent something happening, we have to get the community involved. People looking to commit (a violent act) often talk about it to family, friends or post it on social media. We have to be aware of those things,” he said. “We secure our courthouses and airports but not as much as our kids. We have to protect them the most.”