Board considers school safetyThe Superior school district is stepping up its building security in the wake last month’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Superior school district is stepping up its building security in the wake last month’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Members of the Superior School Board met Monday for the first time since the Dec. 14 shootings and spent more than 20 minutes discussing plans to upgrade school security.
The board voted unanimously to move forward a plan to spend $55,000 on the district’s entry control and communications systems. About $30,000 of the sum would go toward an upgrade of the portable radio systems for all schools. The remaining $25,000 would be spent on the installation of new buzzer systems for entryways at three schools.
The Superior School Board will vote on the matter at its regular meeting Tuesday.
The recommended improvements came after Superintendent Janna Stevens met with the Superior Police Department to review the crisis plans for each of the district’s eight school buildings.
“After the incident (at Sandy Hook), of course, everyone’s first reaction was to say: ‘How is our crisis plan? Is it in good shape? Do we need to make updates?’” Stevens said.
One of the first changes made was to draft a uniform emergency plan to be used for all district buildings.
Each building already had a plan in place, but teachers now have a two-sided instruction sheet detailing how to respond to specific situations.
“So every building now has this front page of exactly what to do in a situation, whether we are evacuating or locking down or a simple fire alarm,” Stevens said.
The instructions also outline what to do in the case of a bomb threat or if an active shooter enter the building.
Prior to the shootings in Connecticut, the Superior school district did not have specific guidelines for responding to a shooter, Stevens said.
“It’s a little scary to see ‘Active shooters: How to respond,’ but I think educating people is better than keeping them in the dark,” Stevens said.
The district is also moving to further control access to its school buildings.
At schools with intercom and buzzer systems already in place, all visitors now need to be buzzed in during the school day. Outside doors will be locked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., so visitors must enter through the main doors.
Stevens said the doors will be unlocked at the start and end of school for parents who need to pick up their children.
Five of the district’s six elementary schools have buzzer systems. All district schools have camera systems in place.
Superior High School, Superior Middle School and Northern Lights Elementary School will each receive new buzzer systems for two entries if the School Board approves the expenditure at its Tuesday meeting. The other five district elementary schools had buzzer/intercom systems installed in 2006 through a Community Oriented Policing Services grant.
The district also plans to purchase additional two-way radios for all of its buildings and upgrade its licenses so all schools can communicate with each other and the administration building. Stevens said the Superior Police Department would be given a radio too.
The department will keep close watch on the schools, said Police Chief Charles LaGesse, which will include an increased police presence on a day-to-day basis.
“Right now there’s a school liaison officer at the high school, the middle school and a single school liaison officer that’s assigned to the elementary schools,” LaGesse said.
That arrangement will not change, but more officers will stop by schools while on patrol.
“We’ve directed our officers to make repeated stops at the schools, not necessarily at the same time every day but while they’re on patrol,” LaGesse said. Officers have been instructed to get out of their cars and check in at schools when they’re in the vicinity.
LaGesse said the officers could appear at any time during the day.
“We want the students to get used to seeing the officers in the school, parents to have a greater sense of security because the officers are there more frequently, and the staff to have a sense of security,” LaGesse said. “It’s very important right now that we provide additional security in our schools, and we’re just asking our officers to do more.”
Board member John Asp asked about police response times in the event of a crisis.
“We can get to any school in the city in three to four minutes,” LaGesse said. “If something terrible is happening at a school, three to four minutes is a long time, and a single officer arriving on scene isn’t an adequate force, but we would have an officer arriving that quickly.”
Four Corners, the district’s only rural school, would see a longer response time. Stevens said it could take up to 15 minutes for responders to arrive.
“Four Corners is a country school, so that’s under the jurisdiction of the sheriff and the deputy,” Stevens said. “We’ve spoken with them and they have been out there.”
Board member John Hendricks said he hopes the district follows through with its security plans and maintains a long-term focus on safety.
“All the activity now is very, very good, but I hope we continue to do the activity,” Hendricks said. “Too often I feel that a hellacious incident like that occurs, and everybody gets all geared up, but then we settle back.
“I think we need to do it continually and not just when we have one of these bad experiences as occurred out East. And I think it’s valuable to make the community aware that we’re doing this, so that they can feel confident with their youngsters coming to school.”
Janna Stevens said each building’s crisis plan is reviewed every summer. Schools also hold two lockdown practices annually — one at the start of the school year and one after winter break.