MARQUETTE - Asschools come off their winter breaks and the deadly December Sandy Hook Elementary School shootingstill lingering in people's thoughts, many officials in local school districts are looking at improving school building security. Gwinn Area Community Schools Superintendent Kim Tufnell said the shooting - which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults - sparked an increased awareness of safety in the district's staff.
"After that happened at
Sandy Hook, that Monday we locked down all of the doors and were just having people (inside) open them, because we did get parents (who) had called and emailed and said 'What do you guys do to keep people safe?'" Tufnell said. "We felt at that point, that's what we wanted to do. There wasn't a different feel necessarily with the kids, but as a staff member, we felt differently and we felt we needed to do something additional."
Students leave Marquette Senior High School after class Thursday afternoon. Marquette Area Public Schools Superintendent Deb Veiht said she — like many other area school officials — is reviewing all of the security measures the district has in place in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
Now, Gwinn schools staff must wear identification badges at all times and plans have been set in motion to outfit each building in the district with an intercom system so all exterior doors can be locked. Previously, all but one of the exterior school doors were locked and visitors were asked to check in at an administrative office within the building. Once the sys-tem is fully put in place, every exterior door will be locked throughout the day and visitors will need to use an intercom to communicate with administrative staff, who will be able to visually identify the visitors through a live video feed, before they are allowed inside.
Tufnell said the new intercom system will be paid for through the district's building and maintenance fund.
"The thing for us, we would like parents to understand, sometimes people get upset when the doors are locked and they don't know how to get in," Tufnell said. "It's not that we're trying to be unwelcoming. We're doing everything we can to keep kids safe ... We just feel like we've put in additional measures just to ensure our parents that we're doing everything we can to keep their child safe while they're in our hands."
Many local school districts also require classroom doors to be closed and locked during class, but that's an issue for buildings within the Ishpeming Public Schools district, which has old buildings with old
doors that can only be locked from the outside.
"I'm recommending that the board (of education) take on a program of replacing all of the classroom doors with new doors and new security hardware," said Ishpeming Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Piereson. "Most of the classroom doors have a window in them, and the hardware on the doors, you have to be outside of the room to lock the door, and most of the classrooms have a glass showcase that frames the classroom door. So, we want solid doors, new hardware and we want to do something with those showcases.
"At Ishpeming High School and Middle School, most (classroom doors) have quite a bit of glass in the door. We want to look at a solid door that still has the architectural flavor of the building."
Piereson said the district will continue to operate under its usual security policies, such as locking all exterior doors except one during the school day - a practice that is currently commonplace among local schools.
He also said he was already looking at replacing the district's classroom doors before the Sandy Hook shooting, but has since decided to speed up the process.
"We started looking at this previously, and because there's a very long lead time with these doors and doorframes, we want to make this a priority this summer," Piereson said. "It's a high priority to get this done."
Since 2006, the State of Michigan has required schools that house students from kindergarten through 12th grade to conduct two lockdown drills a year in addition to state-mandated fire drills. During the lockdown drill, people inside the school are restricted to the interior of the building and the building is secured.
This is in addition to training many area teachers receive from local police, such as active shooter training.
NICE Community Schools Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said his district's high school teachers underwent active shooter training over the summer, and the district's middle and elementary school teachers will be trained in March.
"The local police agencies are really helpful and come in and train the staff on what would happen ...if an intruder entered the building," he said.
DeAugustine said he will be looking into installing an electronic security system this spring, utilizing money from the district's sinking fund.
"We're going to take a look at our exterior doors and systems for getting in and out of the building this spring and summer," he said. "Right now, we funnel everyone through the main entrances at both buildings, but we're going to explore electronic entry systems."
Marquette Area Public Schools Superintendent Deb Veiht said she wants to continue improving on what her district already offers.
"We're making sure our lines of communication are open," Veiht said. "We're reviewing all of the different strategies we have in place, with administrators, and beginning discussions of what more we can do." Negaunee Public Schools
Superintendent Jim Derocher said his staff are trained in how to react to an intruder in the building, and feels his district is utilizing best practices when it comes to school security.
"Each individual building is tweaking their plan they have in place to make sure they're using the most up-todate information from both local, state police and homeland security," Derocher said.
Dec. 18, Gov. Rick Snyder called for the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Education to review their best practices and policies concerning school safety plans. Work has already begun on that review process.
Area schools have extra help from the MSP Negaunee Post because of Community Services Trooper Stacey Rasanen, who is one of only four school liaison officers in the Upper Peninsula. Rasanen has been trained through the state police's Teaching, Educating and Mentoring Program, which trains troopers to educate students on laws and the consequences of actions, and attempts to alter attitudes about violence, crime, gangs, drug abuse and the role of police officers in society.
As those discussions on improving school security take place at all levels across the state, and as more details come to light on the Sandy Hook shooting, visitors to local schools will likely contin-ue to be closely monitored. "Luckily, here at NICE, I actually get to interact a lot before and after school (with the students). I make that a part of my day here every day," said DeAugustine. "I think everybody, for the most part, is feeling comfortable and safe. We obviously have a heightened awareness because of what happened, but we try to make it a priority to have adults in our common areas. We watch and we try to manage who comes into our buildings and who doesn't."
Jackie Starkcanbe reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.