A discussion on school security wasn’t originally on the agenda for January’s first board meeting of the month, but “sadly, like districts everywhere, we are forced to take a look at the issue,” said district Superintendent Dr. Howard Smith.
One month past the shock of Sandy Hook, the approach our district seems to be taking is measured and deliberate, and decidedly not leaning toward armed guards in our schools – unlike some of our neighbors. In Harrison, for instance, police are maintaining a presence until the end of the year.
Smith’s first step in the wake the Connecticut massacre was inviting anyone (teachers, parents, administrators) with questions and concerns to communicate them with him.
He told the board and citizens present last Thursday night that he then quickly checked to make sure security materials had been updated and the current management plan was in place.
Administrators have since been working on standardizing the entrance process to all schools. Now there are intercoms and video at all main entrances (the last voice intercom is being installed at Washington Irving). Rather than just buzzing someone in, the office worker now has to see and talk to the person before the admittance.
However, what the office workers say and how they go about screening visitors has yet to be determined. “The standard protocol for each visitor to follow will be developed,” Smith said.
Each building has been tasked to form a safety committee which will look at outstanding issues and make a recommendation. Then a district-wide safety committee will look at consistency between these committee proposals and make a formal recommendation.
As Smith has noted before, the middle/high school poses a greater challenge because it’s an open campus with students coming and going all day, as it should be, he said. “The realities of school life have to enter into the conversation.”
He urges proceeding with caution because some changes might make only the “illusion of better security or not hold up over time.”
They are discussing a $80,000 investment in standardized locks on all doors. Locks now exist, Smith said, but aren’t the same throughout the district.
Any procedures and physical changes they make will have to work in real life and pass the test of “those who live and breath school security every day.”
Now our district abides the state safety requirements, but the question is, said Smith, “How much do we go above and beyond.”
The district will also be meeting with local police chiefs to review procedures and get input.
When asked about the possibility of monitors at the door or escorts for visitors, Smith said there isn’t the staff for it and that would require new hires.
“[The issue] is so difficult on a lot of levels,” Smith said, reminding everyone that school by nature must be “a friendly and welcoming place.”
And the hardest thing to hear: “Someone who is determined and has the means to do it will gain entry,” he said.
One parent in the room, John Paine, said he appreciated our district's approach.
“Thank you for having a nuanced and thoughtful and deliberate approach," Paine said. "School is not a fortress.” He likened the Newtown tragedy to a plane crash: something that doesn’t happen often but when it does everyone gets “caught up in the horror and spectacle… It’s insane to post armed guards in schools.”
Do you agree that it's "insane" to post armed guards in schools? Do you appreciate the way the district is taking on this issue or do you find it lacking? Weigh in below.