Safety in schools: Local districts addressing concerns

Friday, December 21, 2012
The U.S. and Missouri flags remain at half-staff Thursday at the main entrance of Jackson High School in Jackson. The flag honored the victims of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., from Dec. 14 to 18, and will honor the memory of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye through today. (Fred Lynch)

In the wake of the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., locals are likely asking more questions about the safety of children in their schools.

Brenda Wood, who has a granddaughter attending Jackson High School, posed a question to the school's staff on the day of the tragedy.

"The shooting in Connecticut had been on TV, and it was fresh on my mind," said Wood of Jackson. "I went to the high school to deliver some items to my granddaughter, and I was able to walk in the front door without having to wait for someone to unlock it. I thought it should have been locked."

Wood says she asked a secretary why the door was unlocked.

"It's always that way," the secretary reportedly replied.

Chris Logsdon stands sentry Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 at the entrance of Blanchard Elementary School. (Fred Lynch)

In what will come as a relief to Wood and others, the days of front doors being unlocked at Jackson High School and at other schools in the Jackson School District are coming to an end.

"Changes are coming," said Wade Bartels, chief financial officer and security coordinator for the Jackson School District. "We're looking to install a buzzer system with monitors at the front doors in all of the Jackson schools. The system will be paid for out of the district's general fund, and we think it will be money well spent in improving security."

A buzzer system couldn't have stopped an event like the one in Connecticut. The shooter busted out glass to gain entrance into the school. But buzzers and other security measures do allow schools to make sure that, at the least, entrances and exits are more secure.

No firm date has been set for implementation, but Bartels said that's only because the security company chosen to install the buzzer system is reviewing data.

"We'll have to wait for the company to get back to us with recommendations," he said. "Once we hear back from them, we'll go from there."

While front doors are currently unlocked in the Jackson public schools, other doors in the buildings are secured to bar entry throughout the day. Each school also has surveillance cameras that display images inside a school building. There also is an armed school-resource officer who visits a different Jackson school each day.

"We're evaluating how to add more resource officers," Bartels said. "It's part of our plan of continuous improvement. To that end, we've had another security firm examine our safety procedures for the last two years, and our staff is trained to handle contingencies. For example, if there is a threat directed at a school it goes on 'lockdown' status; all doors and windows are locked, and nobody gets in or out. The Jackson police are notified, also, and they'll stay at the school until the crisis is over."

Bartels said there are other safety procedures in place, but he does not want to make them known.

"We don't want to give anything away," he said.

When asked about a movement in the Missouri Legislature to allow administrators and teachers to be granted permits to carry concealed weapons, Bartels said he wasn't sure about the idea.

Cape security

Neil Glass, assistant superintendent for administrative services of the Cape Girardeau School District, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Guns in schools are a polarizing issue, to say the least. I think we'll need more time to consider that one."

He said a buzzer system for front doors already is in place in most of the district's schools.

"Right now, seven out of the 10 schools in the Cape school district have a buzzer system at the front door," Glass said. "We're looking into ways for all of them to have the system. The safety of our students is always the highest priority."

Glass said the Cape Girardeau schools have a "fantastic" surveillance system to detect problems on school property, and the district employs three armed resource officers who cover all of the schools.

"We also have safety procedures such as the lockdown," he said. "If there's a threat made at one of the schools, that school is locked and nobody gets in. It's something we take very seriously."

Like Bartels, Glass wanted to keep other emergency plans confidential.

"That's something we feel is best kept private," he said.

Dr. James Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau schools, said his district will continue to review safety procedures.

"There's always room for improvement," Welker said. "I do believe we have proper plans in place for emergencies that may come up. Our staff is well trained."

The Southeast Missourian attempted to ask teachers in the Cape Girardeau district their thoughts about school safety in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut but was informed that all questions relating to the safety of its schools had to be referred to the superintendent.

"I endorsed that idea," Welker said. "I felt there should be uniform information coming from the district about our security procedures. I also felt our teachers needed to be getting on with teaching and not having to answer questions."

Rebecca Wright, a guidance counselor at Jefferson Elementary School with two children attending the school, said she had permission to speak on the issue.

"As a parent, I'd welcome any new safety measures," she said. "But I trust the district to keep my children safe. We have a buzzer system at our front door, and we also have security cameras in place. I'm glad all of that is there."

In her role as a counselor, Wright doesn't want to see her school feel like a prison.

"It's a public school. We want to foster relationships among students and not try to educate them in an environment that isn't healthy for their well being. I know security is an overriding factor, but a happy medium would be nice," Wright said.

Lending a hand

At least one parent in Cape Girardeau has decided to make school safety a personal issue.

Chris Logsdon, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, has posted himself at the front door of Blanchard Elementary School where his three children attend.

"I was touched by the mass shooting last week," Logsdon said. "I contacted [the principal], Dr. [Barbara] Kohlfeld, to see if it was OK for me to guard the door, and she said it was OK. I want to be able to help protect my children and those of others. I'll be back tomorrow and after the Christmas break until something is done about keeping our kids safe."

Perryville concerns

Security concerns heightened Thursday in the Perryville School District, after a posting on Facebook said unnamed students planned to bring guns to school today.

Superintendent Kevin Dunn said the rumors have no foundation.

"There's been no credible evidence presented that something will happen [today]," Dunn said. "It turned out the Facebook writings were done by an adult somewhere and it spread nationwide. But we took steps of involving law enforcement and making parents known about the rumors anyway."

Perryville police will be patrolling the district today.

"We're going to be out just in case," said police chief Keith Tarrillion. "Even if it's rumor, it's something we'll be keeping our eye on."

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent addresses:

326 College St., Perryville, Mo.

520 S. Minnesota St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

301 N. Clark St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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