A new computer system will inform Altoona Area staff this year whether visitors are registered sex offenders.
Federal courts have given schools discretion in situations where visiting people are identified as sex offenders, said district solicitor Dave Andrews, who recently spoke at a statewide conference about it.
"The fact is ... the good news is, the federal courts are very supportive of school districts' right to regulate visitors."
He said the courts uphold "pretty much unfettered discretion on the part of a school district to err on the side of school student safety."
A School Gate Guardian computer system is installed at the districts' schools, waiting for the first visitors to insert their driver's license or stand for an instant photo - a job for school secretaries if visitors don't have identification cards to be checked against the computer's database of public records of sex offenders.
If the computer reveals a visitor is an offender, the district can decline the person's entrance, Andrews said. But if the visitor is a parent who the system reveals to be listed as an offender, the parent has the right to attend, Andrews said.
"That doesn't mean they attend automatically, right away. We have the right to chaperone, and my recommendation is we will wait until we contact Mr. Reilly (Jack Reilly, police services director) to arrange for the appropriate person to accompany that individual to whatever the school event may be," he said.
On Monday, Aug. 18, the board unanimously approved a visitor policy that reflected the district's new security technology.
The policy states: "When visitors arrive at the school, visitors will be required to provide a state-issued photo ID which will be scanned into the district's visitor management system against a national sex offender data base. A time-expiring visitor ID badge displaying the visitor's photo and destination within the building will be printed prior to the visitor being granted admission. Visitors must remain only in those areas they have been granted permission to visit."
Andrews said the visitor policy is "a good step forward, and other districts are going to want to follow."
The School Gate Guardian was purchased with a state grant of $25,000 and funds from the district's committed fund balance in the amount of $37,345, said district Community Relations Director Paula Foreman.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.