The shooting that killed 26 people including the shooter himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., prompted school officials across the country to reevaluate their safety policy. A year after the massacre, districts like Shawnee Mission are still working on improvements to make schools completely secure.
Principal John McKinney said that whenever a tragedy like Sandy Hook occurs, schools take a more in-depth look at their own school safety objectives, including East.
“We look at everything that we’re doing and everything we need to be doing to keep our students safe, that’s our number one priority here.” McKinney said.
According to McKinney, East has 38 doors leading to the outside. A chief security concern is the entrance and exit of students on the campus.
“Not all of [the doors] are monitored at the same time, we just don’t have enough personnel to do that.” McKinney said.
Campus police officer, David Parker, said that even though East is in a safe neighborhood, much like Sandy Hook Elementary. Parker and School Resource Officer, Joel Porter, mostly deal with the issue of complacency among the students. According to Parker, he could spend his entire day closing doors that have been propped open.
“People need to realize that yeah we do live in a great community,” Parker said. “We do live in a safe community, we’re still not beyond reach of something tragic. People really need to pay attention to that.”
Junior Becca Zeiger admitted that she doesn’t come to school fearful of violence or threat, but realizes that an intruder could come into school because so many students abuse open lunch policy at East.
“Not just seniors go out, all grades go out, without getting in trouble at all.” Zeiger said.
Students leaving for lunch and other safety concerns are frequently discussed by the Shawnee Mission School District board of education. Serving on the board, Donna Bysfield presides over East area proceedings and echoed McKinney’s concern about certain door issues. Bysfield offered some insight into how the district is working to improve this problem.
“We’re looking at things like if some doors are propped,” Bysfield said. “They’d somehow flash in the security office or in the regular office so people knew that door was propped open.”
Entrances and exits aren’t the only current concern for the East administration. They also worry about the amount of strangers, volunteers and visitors who enter and exit school via the front entrance throughout the day. Although the current procedure is for a visitor to sign in at the front desk and obtain a sticker showing that the office has knowledge of their presence on the campus, proposed improvements to this system are also in the works.
McKinney said the school, the district and the school board are looking for a more comprehensive version of this current system.
Bysfield explained that upon entering the building, a visitor would show their driver’s license or some other form of identification somewhere outside of the building. A system would then run their name and print out a card that gives them a pass to be on school property.
“[We’ll able to] track when they come into the building and their purpose for coming in the building,” Principal McKinney said. “How long they were in the building and all that data I think will be helpful if we need it, we’ll have it.”
He said much of this is all still under discussion without a real time frame for implementation.
This idea and others were proposed at meetings that directly followed the Sandy Hook. The meetings were called In Defense of Our Schools. Associate superintendent Gillian Chapman attended these meetings that comprised of administrators from all over the county from private and public schools.
“We looked at how we can best respond so that we can protect the occupants of our buildings.” Chapman said.
Chapman explained that these meeting exemplified the city’s concern of school safety. The meetings included school safety officials and districts heads, and lasted at times, for hours on end. They researched new ways to keep schools safe and had discussions about the philosophy and manner in which school districts go about security.
While improvements in screening technology are in the works, both East safety officials and administrators stress that the ones who play the biggest role in keeping the school safe is the students and staff themselves. McKinney explained that this cooperation extends also, to safe code red and lock down drills. Administrators and officers alike expressed that the responsibility of cooperation during a lock down drill is of utmost importance.
Lock downs are there to keep students safe and not to scare them, according to McKinney. When drills occur the administration likes to involve the Prairie Village Police Department so that officers and students would get a feel for what a real emergency might be like.
“As unlikely as it may be we want to prepare nonetheless and that means making sure the building is secure and teachers have a plan” McKinney said.
Chapman sees the district’s primary ideals about school safety as beneficial to everyone. She said that the proactive role Shawnee Mission frequently takes in reevaluating security is one of its most important attributes, and Sandy Hook gave them an opportunity to do more of that.
“We’re looking and investigating about what happened at Sandy Hook and about what lessons can be learned and applied to all of our buildings.”