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T-PASS Visitor Management System in Plumsted NJ:
Schools ID visitors on list of sex offenders
PLUMSTED — As of next school year, a new visitor-management system in all four township schools will check whether anyone entering a school building is a registered sex offender.
Called the Teacher-Parent Authorization Security System (T-PASS) With Sex Offender Lookup, the system also will maintain a record of all school visitors, including their photograph and a history of when and why they visited a Plumsted school.
"What we're trying to do is just make it as safe as possible," schools Superintendent Jerry North said.
The software scans visitors' driver's licenses and checks the name and ad-dress against a national database of registered sex offenders. Anyone whose name appears in the database will not be allowed to enter, North said. If the person is a parent or legal guardian of a student, or is authorized to pick up a student, the school will call the police, he said.
"It's rare that a parent is a sex offender who can pick up a student," North added.
State law does not prohibit registered sex offenders from entering schools, state Parole Board spokesman Neal Buccino said. The board supervises about a third of the state's approximately 11,000 sex offenders and does bar some of them from areas where minors are known to frequent, including schools — but that information is not readily available to the public, he said.
North, the superintendent, said school board attorney Wayne Oppito researched the legality of the new visitor-management system before approving it.
Oppito could not be reached for comment.
Plumsted was the first school district to purchase T-PASS Visitor Management With Sex Offender Lookup, but it will not be the first district to check whether visitors are registered sex offenders. Barnegat schools in January installed a system called STOPware that does the same thing, though so far no school visitor there has been flagged as an offender, Barnegat schools spokeswoman Carrie Sterrs said.
And another 45 New Jersey school districts have ordered T-PASS, said Ray Bolling, a local resident and president of Eyemetric Identity Systems of Mercer County, which developed the system. The system costs $2,495 per school.
System profiles visitors
The T-PASS system will maintain a profile of each visitor to the school, including name, address, when and why the person visited school, and a photo.
Additionally, T-PASS will track whether a person's appearance has changed since a previous visit, allowing the system to create a "wanted" poster in case of an abduction, Bolling said.
Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said keeping such profiles of visitors is "invasive."
"It's pretty shocking to me that a school district would create a so-called dossier on someone who's just visiting a school," he said.
Schools can find less intrusive ways to protect children on school grounds, such as retaining visitor information only until the person leaves, he said.
"But beyond that point, what is the necessity?" Stephens asked.
Custodial issues tracked
Currently, most schools have a paper and pen visitor-management system, said Bolling, of Eyemetric.
"You come into school, you scribble your name in a book," he said. "They give you a sticker that says Hello My Name Is, and you're free to go through the school."
T-PASS not only checks for sex offenders and creates profiles of visitors, but it also tracks custodial issues and a list of which people are authorized to pick up each student from school. It can send an instant message to parents saying their child was picked up, when, and by whom, and it can send messages to all parents notifying them of an emergency.
The system prints up a dual-photo badge for each school visitor, with a photo of the visitor and of the child or staff member being visited.
Plumsted schools in 2003 installed a different T-PASS, paid for by a $293,000 federal grant. The iris-scan T-PASS allows people to unlock school doors using their iris rather than a key card.
Only staff members use the system, said North, the superintendent.
The district also has budgeted $21,238 for new security cameras, district spokesman Tom Farrell said. Administrators will order the cameras after July 1, when the new budget goes into effect, he said.