School districts ramp up security

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Secretary Cindi Crites watches as a parent and their child approach the front entrance of South Elementary School in Jackson. The school uses a camera and intercom system at the front entrance to identify anyone seeking to gain entry into the building. (ADAM VOGLER)

In the weeks since December's tragic shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., enhanced security procedures have been the focus of school districts nationwide. Local school districts have taken steps to keep up with what has become an unfortunate sign of the times.

"We said changes would be coming and changes are here," said Wade Bartels, chief financial officer and security coordinator for the Jackson School District. "We've installed buzzer systems with monitors at the front doors in all of our elementary schools, the middle school and junior high school."

The front doors previously were kept unlocked throughout the school day, with other doors secured. The new system will keep visitors from gaining entry unless they are "buzzed" in by school personnel who unlock the door. A monitor in the school office will allow each visitor to be seen and identified.

"This is part of our continuous security process," Bartels said. "It will help shorten the response time of the police if there's somebody trying to get inside the school."

Each district school also has surveillance cameras that display images from inside the buildings. An armed school-resource officer visits a different Jackson school each day.

Secretary Cindi Crites buzzes in Sharon Clark using a camera and intercom system, Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the front entrance of South Elementary School in Jackson. Anyone wanting to enter the building must identify themselves before being allowed in. Crites was dropping off Andre Hill, 8, a third grade student at the school. (ADAM VOGLER)

According to Bartels, the front doors at the high school remain unlocked because the district is trying to find the best way to initiate a buzzer-and-monitor system there.

"Changes are in the works at the high school," he said. "We're studying the situation there because we want to make sure it's the best fit for the campus. We're evaluating the access points and we'll go from there."

Bartels said he couldn't discuss particulars of potential access-point changes because of security concerns. He said the latest security features have cost the district about $30,000.

"That's a small price to pay," he said. "No system is fail-safe, but the key is to stay ahead of the game."

Administrators in the Cape Girardeau School District are looking at ways to close perceived gaps in security procedure.

"We have buzzers and monitors in seven out of the 10 school buildings," said Neil Glass, assistant superintendent for administrative services of the Cape Girardeau School District. "The administration and the school board are looking for ways all buildings can have the system."

Cape Girardeau schools also have surveillance cameras to detect problems. The district employs three armed school resource officers who cover all schools.

"The safety of our students and teachers is always the highest priority," Glass said, while noting teachers and district staff had attended an Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter and Evacuation [ALICE] session at Cape Girardeau Central High School on Monday.

A camera and intercom system, Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the front entrance of South Elementary School in Jackson. Anyone wanting to enter the building must identify themselves before being allowed in. (ADAM VOGLER)

"The session provided us with an update on security procedures and a basic awareness of what can happen from an 'in the event of' standpoint," he said.

"We have a better idea of what to do in the event of certain contingencies that may arise. We're taking everything seriously," Glass said.

The Woodland School District in Marble Hill, Mo., will soon have an armed school resource officer in conjunction with the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department. The officer will be hired as a deputy who will serve the school.

"It's a joint effort," said Woodland superintendent Jennings Wilkinson. "It's something that's been discussed for a while, and we want to do what we can to keep our students safe."

Candidates for the position were being interviewed Tuesday.

"We're looking for the best possible person to not only provide a security presence in the halls but to also be in the classroom as an educational resource," he said. "We want students to see that members of law enforcement are not the bad guys."

Some advocates of school security who believe measures should go beyond locked doors and resource officers. Cole Allen, chairman of Poplar Bluff for Liberty in Poplar Bluff, Mo., believes teachers should be allowed to voluntarily bring a concealed weapon into classrooms to defend themselves and their students.

"We think it belongs in the debate over school safety," Allen said. "We're not against solutions such as beefed-up security in schools. But we feel there are alternate solutions that aren't being advocated, and concealed-carry is one of them."

Allen said his group hopes to offer self-defense and concealed-carry classes for teachers in the Poplar Bluff area.

"Multiple teachers have contacted us and have expressed interest," he said. "We've experienced only positive feedback so far."

Missouri law allows concealed guns to be carried by people age 21 and older who have no felony convictions, are not mentally incompetent and pass a firearms training course and a background check.

The law also prohibits concealed guns from being brought into schools unless approved by the local school board or a school official.

Security has been the focus of many school districts across the nation in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 20 childrn and six adult staff members -- and, earlier, his mother -- before turning one of his weapons upon himself.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address: 301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

615 E. Adams St., Jackson, Mo.
202 High St., Marble Hill, Mo.
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