Surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and secure telephone lines are among the beefed-up security measures to greet students across the country for the start of this year’s classes.
This will be the first school year after the spring in which two Littleton, Colo., teen-agers killed themselves and 13 others in the worst school shooting in recent U.S. history. And in the aftermath, districts are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on security consultants and technologies.
“As much as we’d like to believe schools are going to operate like they did in the 1950s and ’60s, they can’t,” Barbara Erwin, superintendent of the Allen, Texas, Independent School District, told USA Today.
Allen ISD is among the many districts that will require anyone entering a secondary school to pass through a metal detector this year. The district also will require students to wear identification badges, carry see-through backpacks, and submit them to security officers for routine searches.
This fall, Allen High School students also will be issued two separate sets of books, one for home and one for class, eliminating the need for lockers. Erwin said the district’s security plan cost about $500,000 to implement.
Overall, security experts report that business is booming, and companies that once catered to courts and corporations now find that schools are becoming a viable market for their business.
“Since (the Littleton tragedy), it’s been absolutely overwhelming,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services. “(The calls are) as strong as they were the first few days after the incident.”
One trend reportedly on the rise is the use of networked video surveillance systems that allow administrators to monitor any of the cameras on campus from any computer connected to the network.
Officials at the Pascagoula, Miss., School District may install such cameras at two high schools by the end of the fall semester. School board members recently witnessed a presentation by Progressive Systems Inc. that showed how the cameras would be used in conjunction with the schools’ computer network.
Superintendent David Snowden said the cameras would be used as a preventive measure. “We’d rather be proactive than wait until something happens,” he said.
The district is looking at installing the cameras in Pascagoula and Gautier high schools and may be adding them in other schools later, Snowden said. Progressive Systems representatives told the board it would take 51 cameras and cost between $70,000 and $84,000 to outfit Pascagoula High School.
Other examples of security measures from around the country:
• McKinney Independent School District in Texas is spending an additional $185,000 on security this year, in part by switching its 14 campuses from keys to electronic cards so officials can keep better track of who enters the buildings.
• In Liberty, Mo., federal law enforcement agencies made school officials rethink the age-old notion that children be automatically ushered outside when an alarm sounds. Starting this fall, an upgraded security system will ensure that a triggered alarm first signals the main office so that an emergency can be verified. Playground supervisors at elementary schools will have radios, and the number of cameras on school buses will increase by more than 50 percent.
• Noting how phone lines were overwhelmed after the shootings at Columbine and other schools, the Beaverton, Ore., School District and the local phone company have come up with a plan to redirect parents’ calls to information centers while lines remain open between the schools and emergency personnel. The procedure will be tested this fall, said Randy Kayfes, the district’s safety and security director.
More subtle measures
But while many districts are tapping into their technology budgets to beef up security, officials at School District 51 in Mesa County, Colo., are adopting less high-profile measures to ensure the safety of students and staff during the upcoming year.
“The first stage is being able to communicate,” said Marilyn Conner, who is in charge of the district’s safe schools task force. While Conner said higher profile security measures are “still in the thinking stage,” she cautioned that communication and cooperation among faculty and stakeholders should be first and foremost in any safety plan.
Among the measures that will be in effect at School District 51 this fall: Principals will have walkie-talkies, and there will be drop boxes where students can leave anonymous notes about potential safety problems in their schools.
Other security measures will be even more subtle, such as an updated emergency plan and outbound telephone lines that will work during power outages. Classroom locks also will be replaced at two elementary schools.
Conner said the process of improving security has gone very smoothly, and that suggestions from various parts of the community have been taken into account and implemented.
The 54-member task forcewhich includes representatives of law enforcement, the clergy, the media, health care organizations, and the school districtmet in mid-May.
Since then, several smaller subgroups have held well-attended meetings. Each subgroup was charged with coming up with tangible ways to improve security this fall.
“I am amazed and gratified to see that we have in place or plan to put in place a majority of the suggestions that were made by those groups,” Conner said.
Rudy Malesich, principal of Fruita Middle School and a member of the task force, said bringing law enforcement officers, educators, and others together now could help if and when a dangerous situation arises.
“As a principal, it’s really reassuring to know there are people in the community who are really, really interested in working with us,” Malesich said. “All we have to do is pick up the phone.”
Allen Independent School District
National School Safety and Security Services
McKinney Independent School District
Liberty Public Schools
Beaverton School District