Area school officials take safety seriously

Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:24 am

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In light of the tragic school shootings in Connecticut, the Sun contacted area school administrators so they could tell their community what they are doing about security at their school. They and the Sun want to tread a fine line: reassure the public without giving away information that should be kept secret.

We are pleased with the time and thought the administrators from El Dorado Springs R-II School, El Dorado Christian School and Northeast Vernon County R-I School put into their responses:

El Dorado Springs R-II School

by Superintendent Mark Koca

As we struggle to come to grips with the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut, it is natural for each of us to examine our own situations and wonder if a similar occurrence could happen here. This question has been the central thought on the mind of every teacher, administrator and parent since the shootings in Newtown occurred. I have received several phone calls from concerned parents since the tragedy; some seeking assurance that their children are safe at school and that we are doing all we can to maintain building security, some wanting to know what security measures we have in place and others just wanting to know if they can help us in any way. I have appreciated each of these calls and want to assure our patrons that we take very seriously our job of protecting our students.

Statistically, schools are the safest place for kids in terms of the number of injuries and deaths that occur. Kids are far more likely to be injured or perish outside of the school setting than while they are at school. This fact does little to alleviate our fears in the face of violence like that which occurred at Sandy Hook. Unfortunately, it is not possible to absolutely guarantee that violent acts like we have witnessed in recent years can never happen on our campus.

El Dorado Springs R-2 has a number of facilities challenges that make campus security a particularly difficult issue. The biggest issue we face when considering building security is the number of outside doors that we have. Each door is a potential entrance for an intruder and as we saw at Sandy Hook, even a locked door only serves to slow down a determined intruder and ultimately will fail in the face of enough force. Additionally, these doors must remain as fire exits and even if locked to the outside, they can be opened from the inside or “propped” open to allow access to the building. On our campus, the elementary doors are locked down during the day and our staff does a good job of seeing that the doors are shut and locked at all times.

Student travel between buildings makes security at the Middle School and High School a different story. Both Middle and High School students must travel outside between buildings to change classes because we share teachers between the buildings. We also have the Agriculture and Industrial Tech. programs across the street which again requires students to travel between buildings. Additionally, all of our High School students must travel to the Middle School for lunch each day. This in and out travel each period makes it almost impossible to maintain any kind of locked door security in these buildings. These issues have been one of the central talking points with the facilities committee and any recommendation for new construction or renovation will certainly address these issues with a high level of priority.

Training is an integral part of our overall campus security plan. Security procedures are reviewed with the staff at the beginning of each school year and ongoing throughout the year. Recently, all of our certified staff participated in “Active Shooter” training where we learned how to respond to violent acts within our building. Barricading doors, taking cover out of sight and defensive measures if cornered by an intruder were all practiced by the staff during live practice sessions with police “intruders” in our hallways. Area law enforcement also participated in the training alongside the staff. The techniques and procedures learned during these sessions are still in the process of being implemented and have had a strong positive impact on our overall campus security.

We have begun a series of procedural changes designed to increase building security. Several weeks ago, we started locking the main Elementary doors in the afternoon and have stopped the practice of parents coming into the building after school to pick up their children. We recognize that this has been mildly inconveniencing to some parents, but it has been difficult to manage the chaos when kids are being picked up at random points within the building and then later not knowing when or by whom they were picked up. These procedures will be extended to the before school hours shortly after school resumes in January when we will ask parents to drop off their students at the front door and discontinue the practice of walking students to their classrooms or breakfast. Again, we recognize that this will seem unreasonable to some, but will help us keep control of who is in our buildings.

To respond to those who have asked what they could do to help, I would share these things. First and foremost, reinforce with your children that they need to report any knowledge they may have regarding someone who intends to commit a violent act at school, even if they don’t think it is a serious threat. A number of these crimes have been prevented by timely notification to school administration and or law enforcement. Remind your students about the dangers and possible consequences of opening or propping open locked doors for any reason, especially for people they do not know. Lastly, as parents and patrons, please try to comply with our procedures and administrative directives regarding building security – we don’t do these things to purposefully inconvenience or delay everyone; we have legitimate reasons for developing and implementing these procedures.

We will continue to evaluate and modify our safety and security procedures and welcome input from all stakeholders. Our job is kids and we take our work very seriously. Let us keep the families of the victims of Sandy Hook in our thoughts and prayers.

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El Dorado Christian School

by Principal Amy Castor

El Dorado Christian School has implemented measures in the last several years to increase our security for our students and faculty.

All exterior doors in the building are equipped with panic bars. Once school begins each day, these doors are locked until school is dismissed in the afternoon. All visitors must enter through the main office doors, and must ring the bell to gain admittance. A video camera allows us to view each visitor before they are granted admittance. Once admitted, visitors are required to sign in at the office, and are not permitted to roam the building without escort or purpose. We have several security cameras strategically located inside and outside the building, allowing us to view and record activity as it is occurring.

Our intercom system allows announcements to be made in a timely fashion, and we practice various drills throughout the year. To ensure student safety, parents are required to submit a list of individuals they authorize to pick up their children. When someone with whom we are not familiar asks to pick up a student, in addition to checking their name on the authorized list, we also require identification.

Some of our staff have attended shooter safety training, which focused on how to deal with an armed intruder, and in light of the tragedy in Connecticut, we will discuss more specific strategies to deal with intruders.

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Northeast Vernon County R-I School District

by Superintendent Charles E. Naas

The events which unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut, were heartbreaking. Many reports and accounts of the tragedy have been told and evidence will continue to surface for weeks to come.

In light of the horrific happening at Sandy Hook Elementary, schools across the country continue to be safe havens for students. While news headlines seem to be focusing on things like gun control, classroom door locks and security systems, there are many other stories going untold about the heroic actions of the school personnel and emergency crews who responded. The students and others who survived will be affected for the rest of their lives by the actions of the young man who clearly had no value for human life – including his own.

When one considers that over 50 million kids across the country attend school on any given day, the number of tragic incidents that occur inside the school are quite rare – especially compared to the number of “other” incidents such as traffic accidents involving our youth.

Statistics substantiate declining numbers of fatal events in schools over the last few decades and, specifically, school shootings are dramatically lower.

Like most districts, our schools practice “lockdown” situations along with the usual fire and tornado drills. However, since no two school days are identical, there are countless variables which affect each situation. Our best plan is to help train the kids in handling stressful situations so that no matter what happens they are prepared to take some form of action.

We must be careful not to let these rare, isolated incidents overshadow the actual safety in our schools. It was unfortunate that Sandy Hook was the location of the killing spree. The fact that the killer chose the elementary as his target turned the entire incident into a “school shooting” rather than a “mall shooting” or a “gas station shooting.” The school didn’t cause the shooting. It just happened to be the location of the event.

The U.S. Department of Education reports fewer than 65 annual deaths most years over the last 20 years. Considering that over 50 million students pass through our schoolhouse gates each day, the chance of student death while in school is quite minimal.

Be assured that your child’s safety has always been, and continues to be, a grave concern and priority to our school’s leaders.