With the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut, coupled with the more recent Taft High School shooting in California, school safety took precedence at Monday night’s meeting of the USD 257 board of education.
Board members gave a consensus on moving forward with three security changes:
• Putting buzz-in systems in all elementary schools. The buzz-in system will have a small camera and voice service that will be hard-wired to the school secretary’s desk.
• For Iola Middle School, only its front doors will be open until the tardy bell rings, then the doors will be locked and visitors will use a new door that will be created where a window is now in the middle school office. The new glass door will be equipped with a buzz-in system.
• For Crossroads only, a buzz-in system with a small camera and voice recall will be installed in its front door.
Students walking back and forth from the main high school building to the science building and cafeteria across the street and to the Bowlus Fine Arts Center also pose security risks.
“Every 90 minute-interval a majority of the students are walking outside. We are looking at the risks but we don’t know yet how to alleviate them,” Iola High School principal Stacey Fager said. “We’re doing some changes right away, such as locking doors. Unless we get other systems put in place it will be very difficult to move around every hour and a half.”
USD 257 Superintendent Brian Pekarek has been working with Allen County emergency director Pam Beasley to draw up security plans.
“Our kids need to be safe now,” Beasley said. “We definitely need plans, the things that Brian wants to implement are things we should already have.”
Beasley said she would be conducting crisis drills in the schools and evaluating where the vulnerable spots are.
The budget is $60,000-$65,000 from capital outlay. Pekarek said with quotes the district has been receiving he thinks they will come in under budget.
Beasley said she would be applying for grants that will hopefully ease some of the budget strain for new systems.
“There are some grant opportunities to cut away from some of the expenditure. The problem right now is that all school districts are going for them,” Beasley said.
Age-to-Age Preschool at Windsor Place will not need to be changed. The facility is already secured with supervision and keypad locks.
Pekarek said they hope to make changes in February.
The Iola Police Department has suggested all schools receive a panic button, which would cut down on response time.
Panic buttons, when activated send out a mass announcement over the police radio stating there is an emergency and where.
“There are panic buttons at the courthouse,” Beasley said. “When it is activated it looks like the officers are swarming the courthouse because officers come from everywhere.”
ANGELA Henry, director of SAFE BASE, gave a presentation updating board members on the program’s status.
SAFE BASE entered into its third session this week and 51 percent of students from the elementary schools have attended SAFE BASE.
Henry is waiting to hear back from a pending $1.1 million grant for which she applied.
The grant is a five-year 21st Century Community Learning Center grant to provide continued program operation as well as a new five-week summer program and adult literacy education opportunities for parents of participating students.
“Here’s to hoping,” Henry said.
Henry acknowledged Walmart for the volunteer time associates have spent at SAFE BASE and accumulation of grants Walmart has given SAFE BASE, totaling $7,500.
“It is fun giving away money,” Walmart store manager Jeff Livingston said.
FAGER gave a presentation on bullying and what the school is doing to keep the issue at bay.
Fager said there is a distinct difference between bullying and a conflict-related incident. Bullying means dominating another person and a conflict is an incident between two people.
Fager said this is important to determine early on because it helps when deciding the discipline options for the student or students involved.
“You have to start with the baseline,” Fager said, adding it is important to document reported incidents, “so that when we call their parents we can tell them what all their child has done and what will happen if it continues,” Fager said.
The high school faculty, staff and administration have been making students more aware of their actions while also taking ownership of what they do.
In 2012 there were three presentations put on for students by the high school regarding bullying. In August, Stand up for Teen Statistics was performed at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center; in October, student council presented Voices in the Hall; and in December a No Bullying pledge was put on by students.
Fager said these activities and the behavior enforcement in the high school has made students more responsible for their actions and to take pride in their schools and fellow classmates.
He said more and more students are standing up to bullying and reporting incidents to teachers, counselors and administrators.
“If these are our expectations then students need to know what we expect of them,” Fager said. Banners, behavior modules and shirts have been given out to students and posted in classrooms to be seen every day.