The school improvement millage will speed work on building safety.
by Chuck Warpehoski
From the January, 2020 issue
"A couple years ago there was a fire at Pattengill," says Liz Margolis. "We evacuated to our reunification site. With all the hubbub, no one took the visitor sign-in sheet."
For Margolis, AAPS executive director of student and school safety, not being able to verify that all visitors evacuated safely was a problem.
It's not a problem anymore. With the recent deployment of Raptor Technologies' Visitor Management System software, school personnel won't have to remember to grab the sign-in list during an evacuation--they can just access it on their phones.
According to Margolis, the system "really is about knowing who is in our schools." AAPS has long required school visitors to sign in at the office and get a badge. Now, instead of a laminated "visitor" lanyard, they will get a personalized name badge. First-time visitors will also be required to show ID and have their name and date of birth checked against the sex offender registries for all fifty states. People flagged by the system will need to meet with the principal or assistant principal and show that they are not under a court order that bans them from school property.
"The most likely threat is the known threat, such as from a noncustodial parent," observes AAPS trustee Jessica Kelly. While the district already tracks these threats through a platform called PowerSchool, Raptor can "connect the things we already know about custodial relationships and court orders to an automated way to make sure we're getting it right. When we're using just a clipboard and the institutional knowledge of an office professional, there's a lot of chance to get that wrong."
Not everyone is on board with the idea. Eleanore Ablan-Owen, mother of two students at Wines Elementary, says that she had "serious threats and danger aimed at my kiddos" in another city but still thinks Raptor is "a terrible idea. What will happen to folks who are undocumented? Are they banned? The most dangerous people are still
the people we know, not strangers, not mass shooters. I'd prefer greater emphasis on supporting our most vulnerable."
Margolis responds that ensuring access to schools for undocumented families "was one of our biggest concerns. We don't allow ICE into our schools." Kelly points to the district's 2017 resolution protecting immigrant rights. Visitors can sign in using passports, birth certificates, or the Washtenaw ID, and the school principal can meet with family members and make a case-by-case decision if a person is unwilling or unable to show valid ID.
In addition to deploying the visitor management system, this year AAPS also extended the hours that the exterior school doors are locked to include before-school and after-school child care and extracurricular activities. Families dropping off or picking up children now need to be buzzed in. For extracurriculars, they have to meet the activity supervisor at the door.
Why the change? Margolis explains, "Frankly, parents asked us, 'During the school day, the doors are locked, but when we drop the kids off at seven a.m., the doors are open. Why is that?'"
AAPS trustee Jeff Gaynor cast the lone vote against the visitor management system. "I believe the sum total of the security measures we're taking--this new tracking system, locked classroom doors, active shooter drills--contributes to a sense of fearfulness that is doing harm," he says. "I believe having an open and welcoming environment--with more adults in the school, not fewer--would provide for a safer and more positive experience for our students."
But the district is moving toward more control, not less. It's updating its camera system and making plans to move school offices nearer the main entrance. "It will be a trick for some of our schools, such as Burns Park, which has offices on the second floor," Margolis notes, but the current layout in many schools "is not best practice at all."
Asked if having to wait outside in January might dissuade families from enrolling in chess or encourage them to move Science Olympiad practices off-site, Margolis says, "it shouldn't. We are going to see how that works ... We know that this creates an inconvenience, but we also feel very strongly that it adds a layer of safety instead of just having our school doors open after the school day ends."
Kelly, an Ann Arbor Open parent, likewise is unconcerned. "My experience with after-school hours at my own kids' school has always been locked doors," she says. "It never prevented us from picking them up from scouts or the Rec & Ed class."
In the future, visitors will no longer have to wait outdoors to be buzzed in. Bond money will fund new "secure vestibules," similar to the one at Skyline, throughout the district. The work is tentatively scheduled for the first six years of the bond; an initial timeline is expected to be released this month.
For Margolis, the message isn't "keep out." "This is about being welcoming. It's not about 'show me your ID, you're not getting through this door.'"
But if you don't show ID, be prepared for a visit to the principal's office once you do get in.
[Originally published in January, 2020.]
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