The Shawnee Mission School District is ramping up security.
New driver’s license scans for visitors, added security cameras and a new security officer in each high school are among the precautions the district is taking. The license scans went into effect earlier this month on Feb. 9, the same day that the district announced other security changes that will end up costing about $20 million.
Shawnee Mission School Security and Safety Director John Douglass says the motivation comes from school shootings. Sandy Hook, Columbine and others have led to increased precaution in schools nationwide.
“We’re learning off other people’s issues and events, and trying to correct that before it happens here,” Douglass said.
Principal John McKinney supports the changes. He remembers a time when extensive security wasn’t necessary.
“The world has changed since we were in high school,” McKinney said. “We would be remiss if we didn’t respond accordingly.”
The goal is to secure each school’s perimeter by monitoring who goes in and out. They’ll do this with new cameras, door sensors and the system used for scanning drivers’ licenses — Raptor.
First-time visitors have to wait about two minutes for Raptor to scan their record for sexual offenses and restrainingorders. After the first time, the scan is significantly shorter. A pass with the visitor’s picture is printed for them to wear.
Margy Ronning, an East parent who regularly volunteers for the band, hasn’t been bothered by Raptor.
“I’m happy about it honestly,” Ronning said. “You hear of shooters all the time. I would do anything to protect my children.”
A few parents have contacted Chief Douglass’ office, worried that Raptor checks their criminal records, which it does not.
“Overwhelmingly, most people are in favor of the security measures that we put in place,” Douglass said
It may be necessary for an administrator to escort someone into the building.
“It’s not specifically barring anyone,” Student Resource Officer (SRO) Eric Mieske added. “It’s just information that we want to know.”
The district hired an additional Campus Security Officer (CSO) at each high school to run the scans. The CSO will sit at a control center by the front entrance, described by Mieske to look like a ticket booth. The goal is to make it harder for visitors to bypass the CSO. Renovations to build the booth at the entrances of each high school will take place this summer.
The CSO’s control center will have monitors displaying video feed from new cameras that the school will install at every external door. The camera system itself only accounts for about 10 percent of the total cost. The bulk of the estimated $20 million comes from camera system installation and renovation of building entrances.
In addition, there will be sensors at each door that will notify the CSO if a door is left open for a certain period of time. This will help combat door propping, an issue that Mieske says has become a problem at East. Students prop doors so they have a way back into school after going to their cars. Raptor will enable officers to get the door closed more quickly, determine who propped a door and discipline them.
“For those who want to sneak out, it’ll make it a whole lot harder,” Chief Douglass said. “But those who want to follow the rules should not have much of a problem.”
It’s possible that East will allow students to use new entrances that will provide better access to the parking lots surrounding the school. If added, the entrances will unlock with a student ID during school hours.
Not everyone agrees with the district dropping $20 million on added security. Sophomore Peter McDonald, who wrote a research paper on school security, disagrees with the measures the district is taking.
“The more security you have, the less students feel safe,” McDonald said. “It makes them feel like the school district doesn’t trust students, and trust is a big thing. $20 million could go to other things like hiring new teachers or making education better.”
Although McKinney has high hopes for the new system, he isn’t beyond doubt either. He compares the situation to MacBook deployment. Last year, MacBook Airs were purchased for every high schooler in the district. The purchase also cost about $20 million.
“We weren’t sure exactly how it was going to go until we did it,” McKinney said. “It’s the first time; we planned for the best and prepared for the worst.”
Just as the district wasn’t sure the technology initiative would work, they aren’t sure about the new security. McKinney added that safety is more important than the MacBooks or anything else.
“When I go to my daughter’s elementary school, I have to show my ID, but I just recognize that they’re doing it to keep my kids safe,” McKinney said. “All the amazing things we’re doing here mean nothing if our kids aren’t safe.”