BEA safety upgrades a plus for district

When a man checked in at Howard Elementary School last week with a Canadian identification card, building staff weren’t sure what to do.

They were only familiar with scanning in-state IDs in the first two weeks using the district’s School Gate Guardian system.

But with a flip of the system handbook and a call to district administration, Principal Skip Pighetti and building assistant Melissa Robinson were able to clear up the confusion.

With the Bald Eagle Area School District’s new security measures, every adult entering the building must be checked in using the new system.

It’s part of a series of district security upgrades that also includes visitor-management software programs and window safety films at each of its schools. Flashing caution lights also have been placed at Wingate Elementary School and at the middle and high school entrances.

Gate Guardian requires all visitors to present a valid driver’s license or state-issued identification card upon arrival at the door. The ID is then scanned and checked against a sex offender database, said John Peters, district safety and prevention coordinator.

Peters said it doesn’t check against other criminal databases, but the district can log details in the system to bring up custody information.

So far, no violations have been made, Peters said. However, if there is an alert on an individual, the person would be asked to leave the premises and the appropriate authorities would be contacted.

The process to scan an ID, run the check and print a badge takes about 30 seconds to complete, district spokeswoman Rose Hoover said.

While kinks are still being worked out, it’s a hassle the district has no problem going through to ensure school safety.

“It’s in our best interest to make sure our students are in the safest school environment we can provide,” said Superintendent Jeff Miles said.

Gate Guardian is similar to the system implemented at other Centre County school districts in the past few years.

“We have a lot of people telling us they like it,” Port Matilda Elementary School Principal Terri Kenny said. “We thought some people might not like to wait to show their ID, but it’s been working well.”

Wingate Elementary School Principal James Orichosky said visitors have been “very patient.”

“We’re still working our way through that system, but people couldn’t be more cooperative with us,” he said. “We’ve gotten more ‘thank yous’ about that than anything else from our parents at our open house (last week). We’re glad they feel safe.”

Back in Howard, patience is also a virtue.

“Everyone is really getting into the swing of it and getting the routine,” Pighetti said. “Other than figuring out how to scan out-of-state or international licenses, we’re getting the whole process and working through those new situations.”

The security system has also had an indirect impact on other school-safety measures in Howard, such as a change in traffic pattern.

Pighetti said parents have told him they are “comfortable and confident” in the new system that allows them to drop off their child at the door instead of walking them into the school. By doing that, it limits traffic congestion, Pighetti said.

“It’s a much smoother flow that gets people in and out easier,” Pighetti said.