Sticking with its decision from the June 23 meeting, the Newton Community School District Board of Education isn’t going to rush matters on developing a plan to change its visitors protocols and security measures for buildings — even after a recent near-miss.
During Monday’s meeting, the board sub-committee made up of Donna Cook, Travis Padget and Nat Clark said it needed more time to make a recommendation. The sub-committee was formed in response to David LaVera’s presence at Berg Middle School and Aurora Heights Elementary School towards the end of the school year.
LaVera, 33, is a native of San Diego and reportedly has been in the Newton area since early to mid-May. During this time, he claimed he was an actor in the “Twilight” film series and had been signing autographs under the alias “Kiowa Gordon” — a verified actor in the series. He is currently incarcerated at the Jasper County Jail for allegedly enticing a 14-year-old Baxter girl into his vehicle on June 10 and is being held on $50,000 bond.
LaVera was also present at the BMS end-of-year pool party at Maytag Pool. Rich Bates, who signed up for public comment, provided some new details on that encounter as well as some allegations from LaVera’s visit to the BMS,
Bates said he had been in contact with several staff members at BMS who said they had told Scott Bauer, the building’s principal, there was something odd about his appearance at the school prior to LaVera’s arrest. Bates never mentioned Bauer by name, but he was repeatedly inferred to by Bates.
He also brought to light that an 18-year-old lifeguard at Maytag Pool the day of the pool party, who is his son, was suspicious of LaVera’s presence but was told that it was “OK” for him to be there.
“In the business world, as we’re viewing the school district, coworkers get whacked, executives get terminated and leaders resign. So, all I’m saying is that I’d like to see the district looking closer to (investigating) that inspection of expectations and interview your co-workers that were very, very close to that situation,” Bates said.
The board’s sub-committee also stated it wanted more guidance from the entire board to narrow down its research for solutions to the school security concern.
District Business Manager Gayle Isaac, who was the only non-board member on the sub-committee, said he has taken this project head on. Just as he had at the June 23 meeting, he strongly advocated the district consider implementing a sex offender detection program from Raptor Technologies.
He said this program would cost $10,000 to $13,000 to implement in all of the district’s buildings. Isaac previously estimated that after the initial cost, it would cost more than $2,500 annually to maintain the system and the necessary supplies.
According to Raptor, more than 10,000 schools, YMCAs and community centers use its program. The company also says its program has identified more than 10,000 sex offenders who’ve tried to enter one of those facilities.
With Raptor, all visitors would be required to provide some form of valid state identification — including parents. The system would then scan the ID and cross-reference a person with the National Sex Offender Registry list.
Isaac also said he believes that training more district staff members on how to get over the fear of questioning strangers in their building is something that needs to be done.
“We’ve got to get the culture into our schools. Right now, we don’t have it,” Isaac said.
He also recommended updating the district’s visitors policies, and keeping track of exactly how long and where a visitor was at in a building.
“Me personally, I’m a strong advocate of making sure that we’re not allowing anybody on the sex offender list into our schools or if we know that they are coming in, they’re escorted,” Isaac said. “Dave LaVera was a case of he wasn’t on the list and he came in. But, we should be able to run that name and verify that they aren’t on the sex offender list.”
Isaac said he and the rest of the sub-committee will work to come up with a solution to this issue. The first day of school for Newton students is August 19 and the board will meet two more times before then.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 6532, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.