You have to prove your not a criminal to enter Apache Junction schools

  1984 is here today in Apache Junction Arizona


May 5, 2007

Apache Junction school’s visitors get background check

Andrea Falkenhagen, Tribune

All visitors — even parents — who want to get inside Desert Shadows Middle School must hand over their driver’s license, or some other state-issued ID, for a background check.

Without it, they’re not getting in the Apache Junction school.

On Wednesday, the school started up a new Web-based software system that scans a visitor’s identification to screen for registered sex offenders, noncustodial parents and people who have restraining orders against them.

It also records the date and time of the visit, as well as the destination.

“It’s mainly to make sure kids are going home with the someone they’re supposed to go home with,” said Carol Shepherd, spokeswoman for the Apache Junction Unified School District. In case of a lockdown, the system also would allow emergency workers to more easily locate people on school grounds, she said.

Most schools require visitors to sign their names in a log book. A few schools make visitors hand over ID cards until they leave campus. But the Apache Junction district is the first in the Valley to pilot the new Raptor Technologies V-soft program, funded for one year by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Principal Robert Pappalardo estimated his school has roughly 50 visitors a day — some of whom are construction workers who are renovating the campus. Those workers also must be screened.

When a visitor approaches receptionist Candace Mazar in the school’s front office, she scans a photo ID, making sure the name and photo that appear on her computer match the visitor. If no warnings pop up, she prints out a badge that shows the visitor’s name, photograph and destination.

If there is a warning, however, an e-mail and text message are immediately sent to the principal, counselors and police officer on campus who can rush to address the situation.

In addition to a national sex offender registry, the software also alerts the receptionist of visitors with restraining orders and custody issues.

“(In the past) you had to rely on the parent to bring you the paperwork from the court saying it’s a custodial issue. Otherwise you don’t know, or you find yourself caught up in the mist of the issue,” Pappalardo said. “Now, it’s automatically in there. We don’t have to enter it in.”

After the visitor leaves, Shepherd said, no information is saved on the system except for the visitor’s name, date of birth and photograph.

School officials still need to figure out how to deal with visitors who do not have stateissued ID cards. If school resource officer Joe Shikany has his way, those people would stay in the front office.

“We have parents who have suspended licenses or probably don’t have any license because of immigration status, or they don’t have citizenship. If we don’t see the license, they can wait here,” he said, standing near the receptionist. “They could interact with their child that way, but they couldn’t go in and eat lunch in the cafeteria or go in the classrooms or on field trips.”

Shikany said he would like to expand the screenings to include community groups that use the campus after school hours, such as Scout troops.

When the yearlong pilot program is up, the district may decide to expand it to schools throughout the district. Units cost between $1,000 and $2,000, and are cheaper if more are purchased. The monitoring fee is roughly $450 per year, Shikany said, adding he believes it’s a small price to pay for student safety.