New school safety measures in place in District 11

In time for the new academic year, the Anoka-Hennepin School District completed security modifications on 27 buildings: all 24 elementary schools, two early childhood centers and a special education center.

Parent Christine McDonnell prepares to scan her driver’s license in the Crooked Lake Elementary School vestibule on the first day of school. Photo by Eric Hagen
Parent Christine McDonnell prepares to scan her driver’s license in the Crooked Lake Elementary School vestibule on the first day of school. Photo by Eric Hagen

All buildings now have vestibule entrances so that office staff can communicate with visitors before they enter the school. Visitors must scan their driver’s licenses before they are allowed entry. Additionally, all entry points to the buildings are now keyless, accessible only with key fobs.

Staff and parents of students in the Adventures Plus before- and after-school program have been issued key fobs that are programmed to open specific entrances at certain times during the day. With the key fobs, the district can monitor who’s entering buildings and when.

The new safety measures developed very quickly from an initial review of school safety after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, to a proposal in February, to construction and implementation before school started Sept. 3.

“After the shooting in Connecticut, everyone started asking questions,” said Chuck Holden, chief operations officer for the district. “Elementary schools have never been viewed – until Sandy Hook – as targets for that kind of activity.”

But before recent changes, the district’s elementary schools were “soft targets,” according to Holden, places where someone could cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time with very little resistance.

To make the schools “hard targets,” the district decided to re-prioritize the capital budget from which revenue is typically used to replace windows, ceiling tiles, carpet, etc. In total, the modifications cost $1.4 million, Holden said, so routine replacements will be held off for several years. There are alternate funds available to finance emergency repairs, Holden said.

Crews constructed vestibules at Evergreen Park Elementary, Mississippi Elementary, University Avenue Elementary and Sorteberg Early Childhood Center; all other sites had an existing second set of doors in place, or buildings that allowed for a second set of doors to be added without constructing an entirely new vestibule.

Vestibules will allow parents and volunteers to step in out of adverse weather, while still restricting access. “We wanted to still make our elementary schools an inviting place,” Holden said.

In addition to deterring extreme violence, the new security measures will help prevent non-custodial parents from taking a child out of class, which happens across the district several times a year, according to Holden.

In late August, office staff, primarily office secretaries, were trained to monitor the vestibules, scan driver’s licenses and print visitor badges directly into the vestibule.

Sandy Hanson, the principal’s secretary at Mississippi Elementary School in Coon Rapids, practiced with the system the week before children arrived.

“We know it’s going to be good for our staff and our students,” Hanson said of the new system.

There is sure to be a period of adjustment, she said.

“It’s maybe a little less convenient,” Holden said. “It’s maybe a little more work for our staff.”

But ultimately, people are understanding because Sandy Hook came as such a shock, he said.

Next, the district will evaluate security measures in place at middle and high schools. Currently, all secondary schools have some security measures in place, including police liaison officers that the schools share.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]