In response to the school shooting in Connecticut last month, local schools are re-examining their safety and security measures. For Plain Local, that means new door buzzers and locked front doors in all of the district’s buildings.
Shala Brown popped into Warstler Elementary School on Thursday to drop off the hat and gloves her daughter had forgotten that morning.
As expected, she found a locked main door and a new doorbell outside.
The school secretary, Marie Fletcher, picked up her phone — which is connected to an outside intercom — to find out the nature of Brown’s business, then buzzed her through the door, using a button on the phone.
It was a minor delay that, to Brown, was welcome and completely acceptable.
“I love it,” Brown said. “The added security is definitely needed. It always has been, but especially now.”
As the aftershocks following the tragic Connecticut elementary school shooting continue to prompt national conversations about mental health care and gun control, school administrators in Stark County are re-examining their safety and security procedures.
Plain Local Schools Superintendent Brent May said for his district, the security discussion began the day after the Dec. 14 shootings, and their decision was made immediately.
“I talked with my team, and we said, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to do it right away,’ ” he said.
A districtwide automated phone call from May went out Wednesday night alerting families to the security change made at all nine of the district’s school buildings.
Over the holiday break, new intercom systems and “buzzers” were installed outside the main doors, with the exception of Barr Elementary, which already had one.
The measures were implemented also at district-owned buildings that house Day Preschool and Portage Collaborative Montessori School.
Visitors who, in the past, could go directly into a school’s front office through a set of unlocked main doors, now are required to be “buzzed in” after they are identified by a school secretary.
It’s a practice utilized at most elementary schools in Stark County.
“The feedback has been phenomenal,” said May, who has two children in the district. “I feel better today. The enhancement is good and it’s been a long time coming, to be honest.”
Although visitors are easily seen through the office window at Warstler and cameras monitor the building’s other doors, that’s not the case at all the school buildings, so cameras will be installed at all Plain schools within the week, May added.
The cost to the district, he said, is $6,000 for the seven buildings that required new equipment.
COMMUNITY ACCESS TO SCHOOLS
At GlenOak High School, security can be a little trickier because the school is located on a community campus. Besides safeguarding students, administrators are tasked with keeping buildings accessible to the public, who uses the library, Mercy Health Center of Plain, and the Eagle’s Nest Cafe.
Page 2 of 3 - As far as security, buzzers are now located at door No. 1, where the main office is located, and door No. 17, which is the athletic and commons area entrance.
The doors remain unlocked at the library, cafe, and statcare facility, but access to the school is strictly monitored, with inside doors leading to the school from those areas always locked — with the exception of the cafe.
At the cafe, Tom Saunders works a security desk in the foyer between the shop and the school entrance. When he is there, the doors leading inside the school from the cafe are unlocked, but only students may walk through. Students display a brightly colored hall pass the size of a piece of notebook paper, and are permitted in the cafe only during their lunch periods.
Principal Tamiko Hatcher said the decision to minimize access to the cafe is in the best interest of the students and he believes that they have found a good balance between community access and protecting students.
However, he added, “I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable. Any time that door opens there’s a great deal of discomfort.”
Greeting people and having conversations, he said, is the best way to create an atmosphere of heightened awareness without creating alarm.
SCHOOLS AS COMMUNITY CENTERS
The Lake High School and Middle School campus also has a unique challenge of being welcoming to the public as a community setting, while providing security to students.
The campus is home to a Mercy Medical Center facility, public library and YMCA.
Bill Stetler was the superintendent when the school campus was designed as a community center. He said security played a significant role in the design, especially in the public library.
“There were two concerns. One was the community coming in during the day and intermingling with the youth. Then, the adults were concerned about middle schoolers being in with them,” he said with a laugh.
The intermingling was limited in the library, with students needing teacher permission to visit. The doors connecting the school to the library are locked during school hours and students enter through the main door.
The Lake YMCA was a different story, said Stetler, noting that travel between the school and YMCA facility was “free-flowing,” but with YMCA membership, he said there was a level of accountability for who was in the building.
Current Superintendent Jeff S. Wendorf said that has changed somewhat. While doors connecting the two facilities are unlocked for fire exit purposes, an alarm will sound if an adult exits the YMCA and enters the school. That security feature was added about five years ago.
During school hours, said Wendorf, the school shares the YMCA field house for gym classes and intramural sports, but always with staff supervision.
Page 3 of 3 - Following the Connecticut shooting, a camera was added to the already locked doors at Hartville Elementary so that the secretary could better see who was gaining entrance to the building.
“We’ve had a heightened awareness and reviewed our safe practices and protocol,” said Wendorf, but added that they have always been diligent and changes to their safety measures were not necessary.
At Canton Local Schools, Superintendent Kim Redmond said her district started the process of implementing a buzzer and security system at Walker Elementary and Faircrest Memorial Middle School prior to the tragedy in Newtown.
Those projects, she said, will be completed by the end of this month.
At Canton South High School, the door to the main office is locked and all visitors enter the doors by the cafeteria where there is a welcome desk to greet and sign them in.