FOLLOW UP: Prince William Co. Public Schools addresses mistaken sex offender incident

- Last month, a Prince William County father was wrongly identified as a registered sex offender when he showed up to his daughter’s elementary school for a surprise birthday party. It was later determined the father was not a sex offender, but not before he had been inside the school with students for nearly an hour.

Many FOX 5 News viewers on our Facebook page asked why the man was allowed to remain on campus if he was flagged as a sex offender?

According to Virginia law, “Every adult who is convicted of a sexually violent offense, as defined in § 9.1-902, shall be prohibited from entering or being present (i) during school hours, and during school-related or school-sponsored activities upon any property he knows or has reason to know is a public or private elementary or secondary school or child day center property; (ii) on any school bus as defined in § 46.2-100; or (iii) upon any property, public or private, during hours when such property is solely being used by a public or private elementary or secondary school for a school-related or school-sponsored activity.”

We sought some answers from Prince William County Public Schools and here is our email correspondence with Communication Services Director Philip Kavits:

FOX 5: “Why was Justin Williams permitted to enter the school’s campus and cafeteria when his name flagged a registered sexual offender alert in the school’s security system?”

PWCS: “Anyone admitted into the school after being flagged by the system reflects less than full compliance with the Division protocols that are successfully employed to ensure student safety thousands of times yearly. In this case, the admission was a judgment call and permitted access to public area after police had been notified. Students were safe at all times.”

FOX 5: “What is the policy in writing when the school’s security system flags a guest/visitor?”

PWCS: “We do not publicly share security protocols, but can confirm that the actions in this case did not follow our process to the letter. Nonetheless, staff and authorities were able to ensure student safety.”

FOX 5: “What is the policy regarding guests/ visitor presenting identification for security clearance/ checks?  (i.e.:  Williams says he has visited the school approximately twice a week for the last two years. Why wasn’t his name flagged during previous encounters? He also says his identification has only been checked once previously).”

PWCS: “All non-credentialed visitors should be checked upon arrival. Attention is generally focused on those who are complete strangers. But that doesn’t mean that periodic checks don’t occasionally reveal concerns that had not been previously found.”

FOX 5: “What is the status of PWCS correspondence/ investigation with Raptor technologies?”

PWCS: “The system did what it was supposed to do; alerting us to a potential red flag. It turned out the alert did not fit the individual this case—that was not a problem with Raptor.”

FOX 5: “How long as PWCS been using Raptor technologies for visitor/ guest management?”

PWCS: “We were the first School Division in the area to use it districtwide in 2007. Since then, it’s helped us identify and stop dozens of actual offenders.”

FOX 5: “What mechanisms are in place to prevent this from happening in the future?”

PWCS: “We have 87,000 students in 95 schools, drawing tens of thousands of visitors annually. Staff members are trained in our security protocols. After this incident, security staff immediately provided extra training for appropriate River Oaks staff. Further reminders of protocol are being issued.”

FOX 5: “What disciplinary action, if any, is being taken?”

PWCS: “We do not comment on personnel matters, though it should be noted that student safety was maintained throughout.”

FOX 5: “Who is responsible for this mishap – human error or computer error?”

PWCS: “There was an error that caused some embarrassment—but actions were taken to assure there could be no real risk. The software generated an alert that did not fully fit the individual in question; staff actions still erred on the side of safety by summoning police.”

FOX 5: “What is the status of apologizing to the family?”

PWCS: “The principal apologized at the time of the incident. I apologized in a message you broadcast within hours of the incident. I believe that other actions were taken, but these were meant for the family, not to be publicized for PR benefit. We have also noted that this was one unfortunate incident, out of thousands of security checks performed each year to ensure student safety. We regret any embarrassment caused to the family involved, and have endeavored to take appropriate action to improve our processes without further compounding any insult to those involved.”

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