April 29, 2013 Leave a comment
Their job is to protect students. Each works to help students feel safe in school. Since December, when 20 students, ages six and seven, and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, their jobs have taken on new meaning.
We used to think elementary schools were off limits,” said Sammy McNeill, chief of police for Moore County Schools in North Carolina. “Knowing the kids were defenseless caused me to take a very in-depth look, not just a stare, at elementary schools. In the past, we’ve taken a harder look at high schools.”
Henry Smith, risk manager for Cumberland County Schools in North Carolina, echoed that sentiment. He said changes have been made at the district’s 53 elementary schools.
Are we 100% bulletproof? I don’t think anyone is,” Smith said. “You’ve got to do a good job at stopping things and preventing things.”
To better protect their schools, Smith and McNeill have implemented numerous changes to enhance school security, particularly in elementary schools.
In January, Smith said, his district began using security cameras, intercoms, and buzzers at double-door entrances at the elementary schools. Visitors speak through an intercom to a staff member, identifying themselves and where they are from. A staff member hits the buzzer to allow visitors to enter. The door then locks. Each school also has a monitor at the front desk, and the front office has a panic button wired to a security company.
“The double doors have magnetized door locks. We can press a button to open them or have them stay locked and have them lock back.” In addition, he said, the district has asked teachers to keep classroom doors locked during the day.
Smith said that once visitors are inside the building they sign in and get a visitor’s badge, a procedure that was already in place.
“We’ve had an overwhelming positive response from parents and visitors. We are going over and beyond the call of duty,” he said.
In Moore County, McNeill said, his police force has focused on response time to the school’s 12 elementary schools and two primary schools since the Connecticut shooting. “As law enforcement officers, we know things can slow down people getting in, but can the police get there in time?”
To remedy that problem, he said, “We have tried to figure out the response time to each elementary school. I listed all of the elementary schools and then mapped out the distance to the municipality and how far away they are from the police. Then I prioritized. The ones that were the farthest away, that’s where I put officers first, one per school.”
For example, he said, in Aberdeen, NC, one school is near a police department, “so we can get there in two minutes.” In other schools, he noted, “It takes 10-15 minutes. We are in the process of putting more officers in the elementary schools, especially in rural areas.”
McNeil pointed out that since the Sandy Hook massacre, people have been paying more attention to what schools are doing to secure schools. “We’ve gotten phone calls, people asking what are we doing to make schools secure,” he said. “I hire officers who want to be school officers. They are trained to be school officers, to handle any kind of emergency on school grounds.”
Both men said their middle and high schools have security plans in force. Some high schools in Moore County, McNeill said, have several security officers. Smith said that while his district is focusing on elementary schools at this time, “other security enhancements are coming down the road” for all schools.
With the changes being made now and in the future, both men feel confident they are protecting students, helping them feel safe to learn.
If you would like your school district’s efforts to increase safety to be featured in a future article, please contact smcarthur at schoolrisk dot org