A Tough Lesson to Learn
The Jessica Lunsford Act pushes schools to improve access-control policies
- By Megan Weadock
- Nov 29, 2007
As the public becomes increasingly
aware of school security and its
shortcomings, those in the security
industry are acknowledging the value
of new products and innovations in the field.
One group that knows how important controlling
access to schools has become is the
Broward County Public School District in south
Florida. The district includes Ft. Lauderdale and
its surrounding communities, and with approximately
263,000 students and 273 schools, it is
the sixth largest in the nation.
School security is an especially hot topic in
Florida, where new and controversial legislation
is helping schools crack down on criminals. The
Jessica Lunsford Act, passed in Florida in May
2005, calls for better tracking of convicted sex
offenders who have been released. One of the
act’s main requirements is stricter screening
procedures for adults who come in contact with
children in Florida schools.
The act, which has been adopted by several
other states, is named after 9-year-old Jessica
Lunsford from Homosassa, Fla., who was sexually
assaulted and murdered by known sexual
predator John Couey in February 2005.
Following Jessica’s death, her father, Mark
Lunsford, campaigned for legislation to place
tighter restrictions on convicted sex offenders.
In order to comply with the act, the Broward
schools have begun using the STAR program—
Security Tracking and Response—from
Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls as a visitor
management system. STAR authenticates a visitor’s
government-issued ID as soon as he or she
enters a school. Identity is confirmed, and the
system collects and stores the visitor’s information.
Next, the software screens the visitor
against public and private databases, including
the National Sex Offender Public Registry, clerk
of courts databases and internal watch lists,
searching for registered sex offenders or other
types of criminals. After the screen, the system
either recommends or denies access. Finally, the
system generates a temporary badge that features
the visitor’s photograph, making it easy to
identify each guest.
With the current volatile climate that persists
in many U.S. schools, the importance of screening
visitors cannot be underplayed.
“Being able to integrate between public and
private databases is key,” said Paige Tarver,
account executive of major projects for Johnson
Controls. “Clearly, schools are no longer islands
Layers of Protection
Dr. Joseph Melita, executive director of the
Broward County Public Schools’ police division,
said the school district used to simply make visitors
sign in—with little, if any, scrutiny.
“IDs were not a norm, and controlled access
was not in place,” he said. “There was no feedback
as to who was allowed on the grounds.”
With the new system, school officials have
much greater control over and knowledge of
visitors. Melita said although there are no guarantees
that such a system can prevent everything,
now the public knows they will be challenged
when they visit a Broward school.
“It is our mission that students and staff will
teach and learn in a safe environment,” he said.
“STAR is yet another layer of being proactive
... hopefully it will discourage those who have
no reason to be on our campuses to come into
In fact, the STAR system is already doing
that and more. Melita said in one recent week
the district saw four “deny entry” hits and continues
to get about one a week.