Schools taking steps to improve security

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In wake of tragedy, leaders look for new ways to protect children

By Molly Haines

When classes resumed following the holidays, students and parents across the nation had to become accustomed to heightened security following a tragedy that left many wondering how safe their children were outside the home.
Many Owen County Primary School students came to school seeking comfort from the things they had heard their parents say or the chaos they caught a glimpse of on TV.
OCPS Principal Sharon Hubbard said probably 99.9 percent of the students in her school were aware of the events that took place on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 first-graders and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“They’re so young that they don’t quite comprehend it to the degree that some of the older kids do,” Hubbard said. “(The students) ask a lot of questions, but we advised teachers to play it by ear, but they all knew about it and they wanted to make sure they were safe.”
Making sure students are safe is a top priority for all principals, but Hubbard said it gave her the opportunity to amp up a security system that she never cared for.
The previous system included a buzzer system, with all doors locked at all times. Visitors were required to stop by the office and get a visitor pass before going anywhere in the school.
Hubbard said many parents and visitors, once inside the first set of doors, would continue through the second set instead of stopping in the office to get a visitor pass.
“We’ve ordered a type of lock where you can get out, but you can’t get back in,” Hubbard said. “What that entails is that both sets of doors will be locked and no one will be able to access the school unless someone in the office lets them in.”
To take it a step further, all classroom visits to the school must be prearranged and signed off on by Hubbard.
Parents who pick their children up when school lets out in the afternoon are no longer waiting in the cafeteria, but instead in the front office of the school, where a secretary had been stationed.
“When you have parents waiting for their children in the cafeteria, it’s inevitable that some are going to wander out in the hallways,” Hubbard said. “But then you’ve got children going out to the buses with teachers and too many people in the hallways.”
Hubbard said crime checks are also on file for parents that go on field trips.
“There’s often times that I make decisions that I know aren’t going to be well received by staff or parents,” Hubbard said. “But as far as the decisions I make concerning this, I knew I was going to do everything in my power to spend whatever money we had to spend and make the number of changes regardless of inconvenience. When under my care, I wanted the kids to know they’re safe and the majority of the people have been wonderful about it.”
Even with heightened security, Hubbard said the school will remain a welcoming facility and parents and family members are still invited to attend awards ceremonies.
At Owen County Elementary School, principal Marlin Gregg said their security improved once students were moved into the old Maurice Bowling Middle School and that safety procedures are gone over frequently.
The elementary school was expected to hold a site based decision-making council meeting Tuesday, where possible security measures were likely to be discussed.
Mauirce Bowling Middle School Principal Jo Ella Wallace said filing cabinets have been moved to the edge of doorways so that a possible intruder could not see inside classroom doors.
MBMS has also practiced lockdown drills more frequently and will be placing a security camera outside the school with a monitor inside so secretaries can see who they’re letting in.
Wallace said the school is also looking at requesting identification from those coming into the school and only letting students leave the school with those on their pickup lists filled out at the beginning of each school year.
All three principals agreed that the increased police presence has comforted students and staff.
Owen County High School Principal Duane Kline could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.