VBSD uses new technology to help ensure student safety

Thursday, October 5, 2017 4:14 pm
VBSD uses new technology to help ensure student safety

Keeping students safe is a top priority for the Van Buren School District. From conducting drills, to employing the latest on-campus check-in technology, VBSD wants kids to feel secure so they can focus on learning.

This year the District rolled out new security devices to help ensure student and citizen safety. The most noticeable will soon be in place at all elementary school campuses. Hall Pass Visitor Management System is a state-of-the-art check-in software. Parents, volunteers, and other guests will be asked to swipe their driver’s license or government ID when checking into the office. He or she will then be issued a visitor tag that includes his or her name and photo. In addition to producing personalized IDs, the system can notify office personnel if the individual attempting to enter is a registered sex offender. School staff can also input important data, noting if there are restraining orders or custody issues for parents of specific students. Such information will automatically display on the screen to let employees know if a visitor should be given access or if the police need to be notified.

Central and King Elementary Schools have already been utilizing the check-in software. Additional systems are currently being installed on the remaining elementary and middle school campuses. “We are excited to have Hall Pass at each of elementary and middle schools, as it will provide continuity regarding visitor procedures for all the lower grade levels,” noted Deputy Superintendent Brian Summerhill. “Just as our car tags are standardized for parent pick-up, Hall Pass will help us to have a consistent process in place for each school.”

The new software will serve as another layer of protection regarding school visitors. Campuses are already equipped with locking doors and “buzz-in” access systems. Upon arrival, visitors must ring the office using an outside bell. Staff members can then look on the monitor to see if they recognize the guest and buzz them inside. “This serves as a first stop for anyone who might be wanting to cause harm,” explained Summerhill. “If the person in the office sees cause for alarm or knows that the individual does not need to be on campus, he or she can deter them from coming in by keeping the doors locked. This also gives them time to call the authorities, if needed.”

The District is also taking steps to improve its response times for tornado safe rooms during inclement weather. Located on seven VBSD campuses, the safe rooms are built to withstand winds of up to an F4 tornado. If storms occur during a school day, students and staff are evacuated to the rooms to take shelter. During non-school hours, the rooms are open to the community, once sirens have sounded.

In the past, shelter doors had to be unlocked manually by a designated safe room manager, but the addition of new technology will now enable them to be opened via remote access. Safe room doors will now unlock automatically, once a tornado warning has been officially issued by the National Weather Service. Managers will still be instructed to head to the shelters in case of a technology malfunction and to help coordinate efforts inside the building. Keypads are also being installed, giving law enforcement the ability to unlock the doors with a passcode.

Summerhill believes that having multiple layers of security will prove beneficial in keeping students and citizens safe during storms. “Having the ability to open the doors via remote access will help ensure shelters are unlocked quickly. We should be able to get people in efficiently. If the technology were to fail though, we can still manually unlock the doors or use the passcode to make sure people get inside.”

In addition to the new security tools, the District has updated its policies and procedures to help deal with possible “worst case scenarios” during school hours. In the event of an active shooter, staff have been trained to evaluate their surroundings and determine the best course of action for keeping children safe. Over the past year, Van Buren school resource officers underwent extensive training based on national data from campus shootings. The certified SROs have worked closely with District leaders to communicate the valuable information to building staff and to check that the necessary precautions are in place on VBSD campuses. “We hope we never have to use these plans, but we want to make sure that our people are prepared.”

District leaders know that students are more likely to succeed when they feel secure in their surroundings. Summerhill believes the new technologies and procedures will strengthen VBSD’s overall safety efforts and help parents feel even more confident about sending their children to learn each day. “We want to keep the feel of home since the schools belong to the community, but we have the community’s most precious resources in there, so we have to make sure that we are being proactive in keeping them safe.”