News Column

Schools Move Quickly to Boost Security

Jan 28, 2013

Collin Binkley

Within days of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting last month, officials in Ohio schools began to sign off on safety updates that had long sat on the back burner.

The massacre hundreds of miles away in Connecticut laid bare the Ohio schools' vulnerabilities: Some officials still left all exterior doors unlocked, many had no way of monitoring who entered the building, and others ignored their visitor sign-in policies.

"We had regressed into a pre-Columbine-type mindset," said Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based school-security consultant.

Since the Dec. 14 shooting, the Upper Arlington district has installed buzz-in systems and video cameras at entrances to all five of its elementary schools, and the high school and three other buildings will have the technology soon. Outside doors, which had been open to visitors, are locked.

The Grandview Heights district also mounted video cameras and buzzers at two schools. Dublin schools are locking more doors and are preparing for buzzers. Parents will need identification to visit Valentine's Day parties.

For parents, the changes signal an end to some of the accessibility that districts boasted of. Officials previously had welcomed parents to walk young children to their classrooms or wander the halls to take in student art.

"That now has ended, and there is going to be some inconvenience," said Dan Donovan, a spokesman for Upper Arlington schools. Parents, volunteers and students who arrive late will need to buzz a secretary and show identification to enter.

At public meetings last week in which district officials explained the new rules, reaction was mixed. "Most parents realize we're doing it for the safety of the kids," said Kris Rojas, head of the parent-teacher group at Wickliffe Progressive School. "Some parents say we really can't do anything to stop anyone who wants to come in and hurt our children. And that's probably true."

Although the buzz-in system at Sandy Hook didn't stop shooter Adam Lanza from blasting his way into the building and killing 26 people, local school officials said the obstacle can buy time to take action.

Since the Newtown, Conn., shooting, many of the school officials who have asked for Trump's help are from smaller suburban or rural districts in affluent communities, not unlike the Newtown school district.

"Perhaps they've been a little more lax, perhaps they've been under the false impression that it can't happen here, and they're trying to catch up," said Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services.

No one from Ohio's "big eight" urban school districts attended a state-sponsored seminar in Columbus on Jan. 17 on how to respond to a school shooter. But the audience of 100 was packed with representatives of suburban schools, including eight in Franklin County.

Many of those suburban districts have long planned for improvements, but the Newtown shooting accelerated them. Officials in the Worthington district have expedited plans for a third-party audit of safety measures. The district also is focusing on ways to match students with mental-health services, said Jeff Maddox, director of innovation and school support.

Dublin district officials declined to discuss security changes, but principals at several elementary schools have emailed parents about new rules, and at least some schools will add buzzers this spring.

"Sandy Hook certainly woke people up to the fact that elementary-level schools are no more immune to a security threat than high schools and middle schools," Trump said.

Rojas said she had never questioned the safety of her third-grade son at Wickliffe. But fear hit home last week when, at the breakfast table, her son explained what teachers had told him to do in case of a school shooting. It brought his mother to tears.

"My school has done an excellent job of making my kid feel safe," Rojas said. "But it's a shame we have to go this route."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)


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