Access to schools–now more limited
TRI-COUNTY AREA—In the wake of the recent school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 14, and Taft High School in California Thursday, Jan 10, all area school districts have reevaluated their security measures.
PENN YAN -
Penn Yan Superintendent David Hamilton said the school district already has a robust security program in place, including an active safety committee and a high level of involvement by local law enforcement and emergency response leadership. He said the school conducts an annual live drill to make sure the response system is well coordinated between the police, ambulance, fire and other local first responders. Hamilton said there is a confidential security plan known only to the school’s safety team and local first responders.
“As a district we regularly practice for incidents that would require us to secure the interior of our school from a potential threat,” Hamilton said. “Frankly, of all the districts I have ever worked in, Penn Yan has the most active and in-depth security measures I have ever seen.”
Hamilton said after the events at Sandy Hook, the school district conducted a thorough review with the leadership team and local law enforcement to see what lessons we could learn. He said based on that, they are investigating physical enhancements to the entrance ways that could act as an initial barrier to potential intruders.
“While I believe we have some of the safest schools in the country, it’s important that we always review and revise our plans,” Hamilton said.
WATKINS GLEN -
“When these tragedies occur, it forces us to amend policy,” explained Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips.
The existing protocol is for visitors to press a buzzer at the door of each office (district, high school, middle school, or elementary). He said he met with all staff who are responsible for letting people into the buildings about what the procedures are. Phillips added the district has “developed a pretty tight protocol.” He explained it is confidential, just like the district’s existing emergency procedures. He said the health and safety committee meets quarterly to review and update the plans.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to limit access (to the schools),” said Phillips.
Watkins Glen is currently reviewing the placement of additional cameras and the line of sight between entrances and the main offices. Phillips explained they are limiting the ways to get into any district building.
Watkins Glen has also retained its School Resource Officer, after the state removed the funding. In 2010 the district worked with the Watkins Glen Police Department to have an officer at the district fulltime.
Dundee Superintendent Kathy Ring said Dundee schools have also increased their security, stationing school resource officer Rick Simpson at the front of the building and requiring sign-ins at the elementary school as well as the junior/senior high school. She said the doors to the buildings are on constant lockdown now as well.
“[After the shooting] we immediately sat down and said ‘What is it that we have done? What is it we can do,’” Ring said. “We really feel like we have done a pretty good job of securing our building, but you know it is times like that when you have to step back and say ‘Are we doing enough?’”
Ring said the school is currently looking at increasing the amount of security cameras on the property, saying they have done a good job in the placement of existing security cameras. However, she said there are a few additional places where she thinks they would be helpful. She said they are also looking at one particular area in the high school that could be used as an exit in case of an emergency. Ring said it would require bringing one of the doors up to code, but they have their engineers and architects looking at what needs to be done.
“You don’t want it to be a prison, but you don’t want it to be so open,” Ring said. “Our community has been most respectful of the little inconveniences.”
Ring said the staff, fire department and police department are aware of the confidential emergency plan in place. She said the school has had evacuation and lockdown drills so everybody knows what they need to do in the event of an emergency.
Odessa-Montour is working with the sheriff and state troopers. Superintendent Jim Frame explained they are reviewing the districts plan and updating the information on emergency responses.
“There’s constant dialogue,” said Frame. He added he met with faculty two weeks ago.
One of the main focuses in reviewing school safety is entry into the buildings. Frame said all doors are locked and people are directed to “single points of entry.” People entering the buildings are screened and the locations monitored by cameras.
“There have been multiple drills so far this year,” he added.
Frame said one other way the district looks to protect the students is with the help of the students. He explained the district encourages students to “stand up for what’s right” and tell a teacher if they have concerns about something outside of school.
“I think that is our greatest asset,” said Frame.
Like most districts, visitors to Hammondsport must be buzzed in by either the elementary or district offices. All outside doors are locked during school hours. All of the doors and parking lots are monitored by cameras. Upon entry, visitors are required to sign in and out of the appropriate office.
“Although we often get complaints that certain procedures are inconvenient, they are in place to keep our campus secure and our students safe,” said Superintendent Kyle Bower.
Hammondsport also has a districtwide safety plan, which is available online at www.hammondsportcsd.org, as well as a series of confidential emergency procedures for dealing with different situations. The plans are reviewed and revised by committees. Bower said the principals also have safety procedures that are being reviewed.