GAINESVILLE — Visiting your child’s school, checking out a child for a doctor’s appointment or other school business now involves a computer — and maybe a camera — at many area schools.
Many Gainesville and Hall County schools now are using the technology to keep track of all visitors, including parents, volunteers and field-trip chaperones.
"It really seemed to fit our needs and be a really good security system for the school," said Rochelle Edmonds, counselor at Lanier Elementary School in Murrayville.
"Basically, it helps to manage who is in our schools, who is coming and going, (and) how long visitors are in the building."
Area schools have been making security improvements steadily over the years, particularly since the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999.
They have set up video cameras and monitors and some have physically changed buildings so that visitors can only enter schools through the front office.
For several years, visitors have had to sign in at the front desk and receive a badge or pass with an adhesive back.
Florida-based Ident-A-Kid, a child identification program with locations throughout the United States, has worked with area schools about setting up its Complete Campus Security System in exchange for promoting its ID card services to parents.
Riverbend Elementary School set up the system in January, the first in the area, said Kathy Fields, program director for Ident-A-Kid.
The system has spread to Lanier, as well as Flowery Branch, Chicopee Woods, Mount Vernon, Wauka Mountain and White Sulphur elementary schools and South Hall Middle School in the Hall County system, Fields said.
And it is now at Enota and New Holland elementary schools in the Gainesville city system, she said.
Sardis Elementary and Davis Middle schools in Hall and Fair Street and Centennial elementary schools are planning for or looking at the system, Fields said.
Visitors type their name and destination in the computer and then, once they click "check in," a camera (if there is one) takes their picture. Schools keep the information, including the picture, on file.
And then, a printer produces a badge — again, with the photo, if applicable. The camera costs $35, Fields said.
Visitors still will interact with office staff, particularly if they’re checking in or checking out a student.
"If we don’t recognize the person that’s checking (the student) out, we ask them for identification," said Mercedes Rebollar, office clerk at Lanier.
Schools also can use the system to track student tardiness.
"The biggest challenge has been ... you’d be shocked how many folks you’ve got coming in your school who’ve never used a computer, so for those first-time users we have to come around (and help them)," said Debra Smith, Riverbend’s principal.
"If a kid’s there (with the adult), they know how to run the computer."
Smith added that, other than that obstacle, the system has proven its worth.
"When we’re doing reports for the state, and they want to know how many parent volunteers we have, there’s a listing there you run off," she said, giving an example of one of its uses.
Lanier has had a couple of issues with its camera — where to place it for a clear shot of a person’s face and the speed at which it takes pictures.
"It’s an adjustment process (parents) have to go through, but it’s worth it," Rebollar said. "We’ve received a lot of comments from parents saying that (the system) is a great thing, that they know that they feel more secure that their child’s in school and (the camera is) taking pictures of who’s coming in and who’s coming out."