Visitor Management for a Safer and More Efficient School

Today, school security and the safety of students and staff is one of the most debated topics in our country. Recent tragedies have highlighted the need for us to take a look at current practices and policies in place so that we can prevent losses in the future. One area of interest that any school, big or small, rural or metro, could benefit from reevaluating is visitor management.

Every day, our schools welcome in parents, guardians, visitors, vendors, volunteers, substitutes and more to participate in school functions. They might sign in on a piece of paper held by a clipboard or in a book, and be asked what their name is, where they’re going, why they’re on campus, and the date/time. Once they’ve written something down a handwritten visitor pass might be given out and then they’re allowed to walk the halls.

How often though have you noticed that a visitor didn’t fill out all the information your school requested? How do you know they put down their actual name and not a fake? We can’t tell you how many times we’ve talked with administrators and heard stories of them going through visitor logs to see that they’ve had Batman or Mickey Mouse sign in recently. Is there anyway to double-check that this particular individual is allowed to be on campus and have contact with students? These are just a few questions schools should be asking themselves when reflecting on their current process. Say you do pretty well with collecting the information you do want. That’s great! What happens though when you need a report of the volunteer hours for the week, tardy students for the day, or the number of visitors for the month? Just like the safety of your school, time is valuable. Traditional visitor management with a piece of paper doesn’t allow for background checks to be performed or easy report generation, taking time away from other tasks you could be working on.

Benefits of Electronic Visitor Management for Your School

To address these issues that schools nationwide face, electronic visitor management systems were developed. So what exactly is an electronic visitor management system? Simply put, it is an application used to track those coming in and out of your school for easy record keeping. For years now, companies have been providing electronic systems that go beyond collecting the basic information of a visitor’s name, date and time to provide a comprehensive view of the traffic your school receives and provide an extra level of security when needed.

Increasing safety for your school can begin with scanning the licenses of all your visitors. By scanning the 2D barcode on the back of a valid driver’s license to gather the needed information, like full name and date of birth, an electronic visitor management system can search for a matching sex offender record and alert you to take the appropriate steps needed if a match is found. Scanning licenses has another benefit as well. You’ll be keeping out all the Mickey Mouses that try to sign in because fake IDs won’t scan when the 2D barcode is presented.

Similarly to how a visitor management system can check for potential sex offenders, it can also help you detect custody issues and other banned persons. It is not all that uncommon these days for there to be restrictions on who is allowed to meet with a student or sign them out. For example, the mother may have full custody of a student, and the father can visit, but not sign out their child. How would you handle this situation? Do you have to look through a folder of custody issues that your school keeps in a filing cabinet? By creating a database of custody issues, your school can easily stay on top of who has access to visit students and sign them out early without having to dig through files.

In addition to scanning licenses, schools have the option of capturing a live photo of the visitor when they check in, and ensure that photo is accurate with the use of face detection. If an incident happens on campus after a visitor signs in a student might not recall all the details of who they saw. Being able to pull a current photo of those who have signed in for the day can give your staff and School Resource Officer (SRO) a better chance of finding the person that is causing an issue.

Collecting signatures when a student is being dismissed early is important for any visitor management process. Schools can collect signatures on screen from a touchscreen monitor and save signatures to their reports for future reference if needed. This provides another level of accountability and reduces school liability.

All of this information collection leads us to what is certainly one of the most useful features of an electronic visitor management system, and that is the ability to create reports quickly and easily. In the event of an emergency, you might need to know who is still on campus after they have checked-in. This cuts down the worry and time needed to identify all those that you need to make sure are taken into account.

With the use of visitor management systems, your front office can run more efficiently by automating the tasks your staff used to do manually. Accurate reports, volunteer hour calculations and tardy counts are taken care of as soon as they are logged. An easy-to-use kiosk is a great way to quicken the sign-in process for your visitors while also allowing for you to provide a welcoming experience and make sure visitors are using your system correctly.

Perhaps the biggest efficiency feature schools can take advantage of with a visitor management system is the ability to integrate with other systems, like School Information Systems (SIS), such as PowerSchool, and Volunteer Management Systems, to significantly cut down the time needed to enter information in. With a secured integration, a school can have their tardies, early releases, student rosters, volunteer lists and student-parent relationship databases synced at all times. For example, say a parent comes to sign out their child early. With a visitor management system that is integrated to the school’s SIS, the student’s name will be available to select for a fast checkout, the parent’s name can be checked with the parent-student relationship database to make sure they are able to take the child out, and then the early release data will automatically be sent back to the SIS.

Building a Policy for Visitor Management

Purchasing an electronic system is not the end of improving your visitor management. This is a big change in policy for gaining access to your campus. However, there is more that goes into a successfully implemented visitor policy than just purchasing a system. So, how can you create a policy that is both effective and easy to follow? There are three simple things to do.

Communication is key. When making a change that can be as big as a new way parents and volunteers need to check-in you need to tell them! Consider everyone that might be affected by the change and make a list. This could include parents, staff, and even students! Sending out emails or a letter home before making the switch can help against fear of adoption. Let your constituents know what the changes will be, when to expect the new process, why these changes are coming and how they can help.

There’s something at every school that is used everyday and everyone that is vital to a great visitor management policy. Doors. You can take a huge step towards greater security and safety just by locking down your doors except for the ones that lead to the front office. You should make it as hard as possible for people to not go through the office, sign in on a system and meet the staff.

Your staff can be at their best when they are trained properly and empowered to make the decisions they feel are right for your school. It is recommended that you elect for any training that a visitor management system provider offers. Their professionals are going to know the system through and through. It’ll be easier than trying to figure it out yourself and being frustrated when the settings aren’t the way you want them, or you don’t know what a button is for. If an alert for a potential sexual offender or an unauthorized parent comes up, what is your staff to do? Outline the steps to take for certain scenarios and empower your staff to make judgement calls that might come up.For example, what should they do if they suspect a sexual offender check is positive? Say a parent that doesn’t have custody wants to sign their student out. What is your school’s procedure for that? This might not have been something you have had to address before. It is better to have these types of hard decisions figured out ahead of time, written down, and communicated to relevant staff members.

Finally, any electronic system, especially one that collects and stores student data, must be secure. To assure data security, school districts require vendor systems to be compliant with The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and it is a benefit to also see that company has signed the Student Privacy Pledge. These are common standards that should be upheld. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology, encryption, firewalls, and private secure bandwidth should be used to maintain highest security standards. It is also important to make sure that the only people with access to identifiable data are those that need it. This could be those staff members who directly work with the system and the system providers so that they can provide technical support and troubleshooting if necessary.

Together, with the use of an electronic visitor management system, proper training and empowering your staff, your school can improve both security and efficiency.

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