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Grade schools address their safety concerns

Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Staff at the Van-Far R-I and Community R-VI School Districts held separate meetings to address student security concerns in the wake of the tragic Connecticut elementary school shooting.

During the meetings, both districts addressed some immediate measures, as well as future means of tightening safety within the districts.

Van-Far Superintendent Chris Felmlee said a round-table meeting was held on Monday, December 17 with maintenance and transportation staff, as well as school counselors and administration staffers.

Felmlee said immediate measures taken to secure the districts’ buildings include eliminating unnecessary access points throughout the district. He said those access points have been locked down, reducing entry points to only the main doors at the elementary and junior/senior high schools.

Felmlee said teachers have been  repositioned at the bus-loop doors at the kindergarten and 5th and 6th grade entrances. He said hand-held radios have been given to staff to better facilitate communication.

Felmlee added that staff has also buffered their monitoring of the ground’s security cameras, of which could be increased on campus.

Community R-VI Superintendent Cheryl Mack said the district has also locked down the district’s previous multiple entry points at the school and now maintains a lone entry like Van-Far as a quick fix for increased safety.

“We do take a look at security quite often,” Mack said. “It’s very easy when you are in a small community to let your guard down.”

She said an additional meeting will be held with district staff and administration to determine the best future measures for safety within the district.

A possible security item to be discussed at Community R-VI  is a buzzer-entry system and camera at the central entry point dictating access to the building.

Another measure is a badge system to help ensure visitors have properly checked in at the office.

Mack said another addition at Community R-VI would be an SRO, or security personnel on campus from local law enforcement.

“The small, rural schools don’t have that at our fingertips,” Mack said.

Mack called for legislature to provide security resources like SROs or other security measures to ensure that students are being kept safe.

“That’s something we need to look at as a state,” Mack said. “Are we providing the security at schools that we need to be providing?”

Felmlee said Van-Far is in a better position than other districts to increase student security.

Last year, voters approved Van-Far for $2.5 million dollars worth of no-tax bonding capacity. Felmlee said only about  $1.4 million of that capacity has been used for recent building updates, so the district could go to the voters for approval to appropriate funds for security updates.

“This would be a no-tax increase, where in other districts it would be an additional burden to the community,” Felmlee said.

He said the process for the funds would take up to a year to complete and at least $1 million could be made available for upgrades at both of the district’s buildings.

At Van-Far’s Monday round table, Felmlee said the group hypothetically discussed what could be done if funds were available.

Felmlee said on top of all perimeter doors at the school being locked down aside form a central entry, discussion focused on converting exterior doors from glass to solid mason, wood or a composite similar in nature, as well as updating all of the district’s interior doors — making them intruder-proof.

He said the “pods” at the elementary school, which are separate classrooms housed within one large room, also need to be secured — not only for safety, but for peace in learning.

He noted increased security at the elementary school has been achieved with a new security system installed in the building last year.

Felmlee added the district does have an overlapping crisis plan that Felmlee said covers “everything under the sun.”

Though, he said the district will be sitting down with the Audrain County Emergency Management Agency to review any weaknesses in Van-Far’s crisis plan.