District 15 considers new school safety measures

In the wake of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the St. Francis School District has been looking at its own safety.

“It is hard to go anywhere and not find people discussing safety,” said Superintendent Ed Saxton.

Most school superintendents are trying to figure out if there are things they can do to make the schools safer, and how it can be done given the state of school financing, he said.

For District 15, that includes looking at how people enter the school buildings.

Currently, people enter into the buildings through two series of doors and check in with the front office, Saxton said.

In the future, the office staff could have the ability to buzz people into the second set of doors, which would be locked, he said.

It could cost about $2,000 per door, Saxton said.

Saxton said the district is also looking into camera systems.

According to Mike Starr, the only resident to voice safety concerns at the school board meetings, the district needs to looked at the safety in the buildings, which were built between the 1950s and 1970s.

They are wide open and there needs to be changes made for the students, Starr said during the Jan. 14 school board meeting.

One of the problems that exists are all of the classroom doors lock from the outside, not the inside, said Starr, who works as a substitute teacher in the district.

If there is a lockdown, the teachers have to exit the classroom to lock the door, he said.

Having the front doors locked will help slow down the bad guys and having cameras at the entrance will record who is entering and allow the front office to see what people are carrying, said Starr, who is also a former school board member and has worked in safety industry for 33 years, including military law enforcement and National Guard security service, police officer and Fred Pryor Seminars instructor for security and work place safety.

According to Starr’s plan, the front doors will be locked with classes are in session.

The second set of doors need to be rebuilt to funnel visitors to the front office because right now visitors can bypass the office and go straight into the building, Starr said.

The buildings were designed to be welcoming places and now they need to be rebuilt to make them a more secure system without making them feel like a fortress, he said.

Starr also suggests a panic button connected directly to the police station be installed in the school office.

All of his recommendations, which he gave to the board Jan. 14, are designed to make the schools safer, Starr said.

The district needs to have a committee of residents and school administrators look at what would make the schools safer, come up with an estimate of how much it would cost and ask the voters to bond for the money, he said.

The district needs to be more proactive about safety, not reactive, Starr said.

When it comes to safety procedures, St. Francis Police Sgt. Jake Rehling recommends the district continue using the existing procedure.

The students, from elementary school to high school, know what to do when there is a lockdown, he said.

School shootings have unfortunately become a plague in our country for a while, Rehling said.

How law enforcement responds to school shootings have changed drastically since Columbine High School in 1999.

After Columbine, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) gathered experts to design how law enforcement responds and trains for active shooters in schools, Rehling said.

Students and staff have been trained using this procedure and “they know what they are supposed to do and why,” he said.

If people walk into St. Francis Elementary School during a lock down drill, “you can hear a pin drop. That is a lot of little kids keeping quiet,” Rehling said

“The kids know what do to and by the time they are 18, they are experts in what to do in drills,” he said.

If an active shooter call goes out, there will be over 100 law enforcement officers coming from several jurisdictions and they all know what role they will be playing when they arrive at the scene, Rehling said.

Making any changes to that would be a bad thing, he said.

“The district cannot build a better system.” Rehling said.

“We all want the same things. We strive for the safety of staff and students at all times.”

“Having everyone on the same system will help save lives and makes it easier for law enforcement to response directly to threat.”

Knowing that 100 people would be at the school in a short time makes him feel better, Saxton said.

As for changing the buildings, there are not a lot of drawbacks to their general layout, Rehling said.

While they could make changes, “where do we draw the line between making it a secured facility and it being a school,” he said.

Do they install metal detectors and make it into an armed fortress? Do they cancel recess, Rehling said.

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]