NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The City School District of New Rochelle is now proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” in its seven year battle to install an electronic Visitor Management System at the main entrance of the District’s 11 school campuses.
After the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, the New Rochelle Board of Education received security recommendations in 2013 from VRI, a security consulting firm founded by former NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir. Among the “high priority” recommendations was the recommendation to purchase and install a networked Visitor Management System to prevent sex offenders from entering school buildings.
At a meeting yesterday of the District Wide Security Committee, School Security Director Bruce Daniele announced that 100% of the District’s 10 schools (11 including the Alternative High School Campus) now have a new “swipe” system to track visitors to the schools by swiping their drivers licenses or other government IDs.
For reasons that were not made clear, the District has not purchased and installed a standard feature of Visitor Management Systems – the capability to screen visitors against sex offender registries.
The primary purpose for purchasing and installing a Visitor Management System is to keep known sex offenders and violent predicate felons out of schools. Past security assessments noted that the school district does not conduct background checks on employees of outside contractors.
Visitor Management Systems can automatically and instantly scan all visitors against the National Sex Offender Registry, a database coordinated by the United States Department of Justice with the latest information from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and numerous Indian tribes which provides the identity and location of known sex offenders.
The system installed in the New Rochelle schools does not have that capability.
The District plans to make up for this by having a security guard manually key in all Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders on the public New York State Registry maintained by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. Level 1 Sex Offenders are not listed on the DCJS public website by statute.
This will be a Sisyphean task. It will take weeks to enter the New York records, the information will be out of date the moment the work is complete and none of that effort will do anything about sex offenders in the rest of the United States and it’s territories.
To put the scope of this effort in context, as of February 6, 2020, there were just under 42,000 registered sex offenders in New York State: 14,829 at Level 1, 15,701 at Level 2, 10,503 at Level 3 and another 916 sex offenders currently under assessment for final classification.
The District plan is to have a security guard manually enter 26,000 records of Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders registered in New York. If she is able to enter one record per minute with perfect accuracy and she works non-stop for 8 hours a day, it will take her 50 work days to enter those records.
When that is done, she can get to work on the other 900,000 registered sex offenders in the United States and its territories, as counted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She will be able to complete that task in 1,875 work days or in just over a decade.
The failure to purchase and install a Visitor Management System integrated with the National Sex Offender Registry renders the system useless for its primary purpose, to ensure that prohibited persons do not gain access to the school.
There are many other flaws: there was no mention of tapping into important “watchlist” databases beyond the National Sex Offender Registry, the new Visitor Management System is not integrated with the District’s own E-Schools database, the system is not integrated with the existing access control systems for students and employees, there are no plans to import information from other sources and information on child custodial issues will be manually entered by a different group of people, secretaries at each school.
There were no plans to maintain the records such as updating expired court orders or adding newly assigned sex offenders.
The reliance on a dozen or more untrained staff working out of 11 different locations to manually enter tens of thousands of records, without two-pass verification (a standard data entry quality control method), makes it highly unlikely the District will end up with the level of accuracy necessary to match information from a swiped drivers license. A difference of one letter or number in one field of one record is enough to generate a false negative which would allow a registered sex offender into the building.
The failure to use the system properly to screen registered sex offenders and the reliance on district employees to enter data and operate the swipe system opens up the District to significant legal liability if an incident were to occur where a known sex offender was swiped and allowed into the building.
The broader implication of yesterday’s revelations is that although some — not all — visitors are being swiped none the of them are being checked against any information like court orders or sex offender registries because that data has not been entered into the system and the system is not linked to the various watchlist databases. In other words, there is no difference between the paper-based “sign-in sheet” system and the Visitor Management System.
Before the new Visitor Management System was even installed, the school administration began to actively undermine the system. announcing that any parent or guardian who says they do not have a form of identification or failed to bring identification with them to the school can bypass the swipe system and gain access to the building by talking to school staff in the main office, entirely defeating the purpose of the swipe system.
“As the district works to develop protocols to balance school security and community partnerships, we will work with individual families to ensure that this new practice does not impact your sense of belonging,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo in an email sent to parents on January 15th. “These are your schools.”
Feijóo noted that it is the policy of the City School District of New Rochelle to not cooperate with federal agents, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement which may explain why the District is manually entering data one State at a time rather than tapping into the DOJ’s National Sex Offender Registry.
Talk of the Sound has filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking to obtain the purchasing records pertaining to the Visitor Management System to include board approval, POs, invoices, payments, marketing material like brochures, vendor presentations, communications with the vendor and all other material related to the purchase of the system.