SSISD beefing up security with badges for visitors, new security cameras

District approved for federal grant of almost $200,000

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept 12, 2007 - Parents of Sulphur Springs students shouldn’t be surprised if  they get carded when visiting their child’s school in the next few months.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

SSISD System Analyst Brent Baker takes Travis Elementary School Secretary Teresa Janicki's picture and makes her an ID badge Tuesday in the school's library.

The district will be installing equipment to check all visitors to Sulphur Springs campuses against a nationally registered child sex offender database, a measure designed to better protect students from potential predators.

Funding for the project is part of a nearly $200,000 matching grant Sulphur Springs Independent School District received from the U.S. Department of Justice to improve security.

District Grants Administrator Sherry Garrard was notified by Senator John Cornyn's office Friday  that SSISD had been approved to receive the federal grant, and she informed the school board during Monday night’s regular session.

�It is a pleasure any time we get right at $200,000. This is exciting,� Garrard said. �We are only one of eight districts in the state to get one, and I�m told the only one in East Texas.�

�In March, a 50-plus page report was presented to school trustees, compiled from 10 security audits at SSISD campuses conducted during the school year. The $194,701 Secure Our Schools grant will focus on the 10 areas identified as safety needs.

The “carding” is actually an electronic sign-in process for all nine district building, which will allow visitors to wear picture ID badges while visiting campuses.

So how does it work?

Parents and other visitors to the campuses in the future will be required not only to ring the front door bell to be let in, but will also have to present their driver’s license to school staff. Instead of just signing in and being handed a visitor's tag, their driver’s license information will be checked against a sex offender database. Once cleared, the visitor will receive a “badge” or a printout with their picture, name and the time they entered the building .

�This lets us know who is in the building when," Garrard said, adding that the security measures don't mean the district discourages visitors. "This is not to discourage visitors. This is about the safety of the students."

She also added that parents and visitors shouldn’t be overly concerned that the checks will be invasive — they won't reveal parking tickets or criminal records,  just prevent registered sex offenders from entering the campuses.

Visitors aren’t the only ones who will be “badged” upon entering the front doors. Badges for all 625-plus school employees are being made. The project started at Bowie Elementary, then moved to Travis Elementary Tuesday, were slated to start soon at Early Childhood Learning Center, and over the next two months include picture badges on all campuses. Staff who do not have badges will be denied entry into the buildings. 

Eventually, once the software and systems are installed, the computer-generated name badges will also include “targeted security access,” which limits each staff member’s access to various areas of campuses, depending on their duties. They will present the badges at access points, and gain or be denied entry depending on their access privileges.

�They�ll wave the back of the card in front of the scanner and the door will be unlocked if you have the right code,� Director of Plant Operations Dale Guest explained to the board.

The premise is to keep people who do not belong in certain areas out, and to quickly identify intruders or strangers, limiting their access to children.

The grant will also help the district purchase and install 561 new internal and external locking devices for six campuses, giving teachers the ability to lock their rooms from the inside and quickly “lock-down” campuses if a potential threat is identified. At the time of the 10 security audits last year, the doors for most campuses locked from the outside only. 

�If a perpetrator entered the campus, a teacher would have to step outside the room to execute a lock down,� Garrard explained.

The SOS grant will also help fund installation of 52 security cameras for interior and exterior monitoring of campuses. The cameras will be installed in isolated hallways, parking lots and other areas.

Also in the future, Sulphur Springs High School students won’t be the only ones required to register their vehicles through the school, identifying who they belong to. All staff on all nine district campuses will be required to register their vehicles for a staff parking system, which will make it easier for staff to identify any suspicious vehicles or those of visitors.

The "SOS grant also will go toward the purchase of 14 radios with interoperability capabilities” and 26 two-way radios to be used by custodial staff to enhance security. 

�The radio capabilities will have the radio channels to talk with local first responders, city and county, and all federal and state agencies, all responders at the local and state level," Garrard explained. "The additional radios are helpful because custodial staff are very observant and can help locate suspects. They can report behavior, and it helps enforce communication with the front office."

The district will also purchase anti-bullying curriculum and drug prevention programming for students. School administrators will attend additional emergency preparedness training courses and follow-up training exercises.”

A system is also being put in place through which junior high and high school students can anonymously report safety concerns, and staff can send urgent messages to those students.

The grant gives 18 months for the 10 security improvements to be implemented, but the particulars of the grant have yet to be negotiated. The district hopes to be able to get some of the funding and start work on these 10 projects this fall, but no time table has yet been established by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

�We commend Sherry on doing this,� Superintendent Patsy Bolton said. �She�s one if there�s money out there, she�ll look for it, get it and do what we need to do."

�We are very fortunate to have someone in the district, someone who can do that,� SSISD board president Foy Williams.

Garrard noted that a number of individuals contributed to the audits and process which helped secure the grant funding.   

�I would like to acknowledge Dale Guest, Bill Bain and Thurman Newkirk. These gentlemen spent much time and effort on research and development for an appropriate locking system. Their understanding of security cameras and radios was invaluable to the preparation of the application,� said Garrard, noting that the hard work of school staff and community members who helped with the audits also was also very important.

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