Instant Background Checks at Schools: The New Normal?

By Michael Klazema on 10/29/2019

The idea of conducting instant background checks at schools is not new. For years, school districts all over the country have been looking for a reliable way to screen parents and other individuals who visit their school buildings. The rash of school shootings over the past decade has given schools more reason to vet every single person who sets foot on the premises. In an environment in which any “outsider” could pose a threat—and any threat could lead to a catastrophic loss of life—school districts simply aren’t taking any chances. 

The instant background check is an ideal tool for schools because it doesn’t require any significant pre-planning or collection of information. Running background checks on employees or volunteers can sometimes be instant—but isn’t always—but visitor background checks are different. When someone comes to a school building for a visit, whether a parent, reporter from the local news media, or guest set to speak at an assembly in the gym—a school doesn’t have weeks, days, or even hours to run a background check on that person. Staff members need a system in place with which to vet each visitor on the spot while that person is at the main office signing in and getting their visitor’s badge.

 Most instant background check systems at schools work the same way. The visitor arrives at the main entrance of the school building and buzzes the intercom to gain access to the school. From there, the visitor must proceed to the main office to sign in. As part of the sign-in process, the visitor provides a driver’s license (or other government-issued identification) to the person working the front desk at the office. Schools with instant visitor background check systems in place have a setup that enables these employees to swipe the visitor’s ID, initiating an instant background check. 

Some of these systems focus on sex offender registries and keeping sex offenders out of school environments. Others incorporate criminal history databases that span multiple jurisdictions. In all cases, these background checks are designed to move quickly. Within 30 seconds, the front desk worker will have a background check report for the visitor (and will be able to decide if that visitor should proceed into the building or not). 

More schools are starting to invest in these systems. Ahead of the 2018-2019 school year, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, a K-12 public school district located in Columbus, Indiana, rolled out a visitor background check system for its school buildings. A year later, in the lead-up to the 2019-2020 academic year, Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida adopted a similar system to protect its 129,000 students. In October 2019, Rogers Public Schools in Rogers, Arkansas spent more than $36,000—and committed to annual software fees of $13,500—to install a sophisticated visitor background check setup. The Rogers system can even track volunteer hours, bar visitors who aren’t supposed to contact specific students, and complete other tasks.

 These systems are the way of the future for schools in their battle to keep students safer. Now that almost all schools have thorough background check systems in place for volunteers, they are moving on to visitors. Hopefully, these technologies will deliver the benefits that school districts are seeking without discouraging parent involvement in the classroom.

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