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The Los Alamos School Board is seriously considering modifying its school visitation policy, either through language changes to its policies, specialized computer software or both.
Whatever it chooses, the aim would be the same: to come up with a better way of identifying and tracking potentially dangerous people coming onto Los Alamos’ school campuses. Those on the list include those with criminal pasts, mental health issues as well as those with court-mandated child visitation or restraining orders. The board seemed especially interested in registered sex offenders.
At the board’s special work session, Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt asked the board to at least consider shoring up present language in the policies that deal with campus visits.
“At the very least, we can’t be happy with what we have. We really need to do something that’s more visible, has stronger language,” he said to the board.
During the public session of the meeting, a resident revealed to the board that she’d already been working with Board Secretary Matt Williams and Piñon Elementary School Principal Jill Gonzales about strengthening the school district’s visitation policy, also known as “policy 1240.”
“The 1240 R policy is perhaps five to six sentences, a small paragraph,” she said. “When you look at other districts throughout the country, they have more pages when dealing with visitors to school that might be registered sex offenders.”
Gonzales also added that the vagueness of the policy has led to issues in the past, and that it’s time to make some changes. One thing she said she’d like to see is registered sex offenders assigned escorts wherever they go on campus. She would also like to see them banned from field trips as well as volunteering. She would also like to see the district check sex offender registries in surrounding counties, since the district accepts out-of-district students from the same counties.
“We don’t check those registries,” she told the board. “We have lots of holes, and maybe it’s time to take a look at what other districts are doing, and perhaps we can do even to a better job.”
She also welcomed Schmidt’s idea that a software system already used to screen visitors to the high school be implemented in the other six schools as well. Called “Raptor,” the visitor management software performs an instant sex offender background check against the registered sex offender databases in all 50 states for every visitor, every time they visit. It then creates a badge for approved visitors.
“I think (Raptor) would take the onus off of the secretaries and the principals that have to make the decision about whether someone should be at the school or not,” she said. “ ... If you don’t have a badge, you shouldn’t be at school. I think that would make things easier on the staff.”
At the work session, Schmidt told the board it would cost $9,000 to implement Raptor in the rest of the schools. Schmidt also said the system also screens for other criminal offenses, “... including the last time you were stopped by police,” he told the board. He later added that it would be nice for the Raptor system be adjusted to focus on sex offenses, custody disputes and issues that could pose a direct threat to a student’s safety.
Board vice president Kevin Honnell then read the policy regarding escorts and what’s required of registered sex offenders and others with known criminal histories, and what they as a board can do to strengthen it. Schmidt answered that what it doesn’t cover is the people they don’t know, such as people from outside the county. Gonzales added that the policy doesn’t define who the escorts are, their qualifications and how registered sex offenders should be monitored during a visit. She also said they do have some protocols of their own that are effective, but they haven’t been written into the policy.
The resident also said the policy doesn’t even define legitimate reasons of why a registered sex offender should be on campus, (parent of a student) something other counties have, she said.
Board member Jim Hall thought the Raptor system would be a good idea in identifying sex offenders, but he also had doubts about the invasiveness of the system.
“It’s a proven fact that sex offenders are a special case. Beyond that, I have real doubts about having a parent, who perhaps has a felony in their past, from 20, 30 years ago, having the school know about it, and perhaps affecting the treatment of their children. I’m not at all in favor of that kind of thing,” Hall said. “I’m all in favor of strengthening our sex offender policy, beyond that, I have real questions.”
Schmidt, in response, reminded the board that the Raptor system is already being used at the high school and that the employees who screen with it “show great confidentiality” when using it. “I don’t think employees have abused that confidence,” he said.
Honnell and the board also noted that it might be hard to use the system in large event situations, like concerts and sports events. Schmidt replied that it could be possible to use it, that it has been used successfully at other events.
The board then agreed to study Raptor further. The board also opted to add Hall to Schmidt’s parent/administrator study group that’s researching the school policy (in addition to Williams).
He also agreed to present to the board by the next board meeting more information about Raptor. One question the board the board is interested in is whether it can fine tune the system to weed out criminal records and custody issues that have no direct bearing on a child’s safety, a question Schmidt said he’d try to answer by the next July meeting.