Tonight at 6:30pm South Jefferson Board of Education held a public forum on school safety. This is to brief any parents who were interested in attending but unable to be there on what happened.
I’d say 75-100 people were in attendance. I was quite pleased to see quite a few attendees were staff members from all buildings in the district. Every principal was there, school greeters were there, building & grounds and teachers. The former School Resource Officer, Jeff Stevenson, was also present. Several of them spoke up about their concerns as well. The rest of the attendees were parents, grandparents and yes even students.
Within the past 18 months the schools have installed 27 security cameras, including a camera pointed at every main entrance. The monitors are currently in the principals office but they are discussing possibility of moving monitors out to the greeters desk. With the recent Sandy Hook tragedy, there has been talk at both federal and state levels of bringing back funding for School Resource Officers but the school is still looking into it.
Concerns voiced from the audience:
- Much concern was expressed about the front entrance doors being unlocked. Currently, Mannsville is the only school in the district that locks all doors during the school day. The feedback from locking the front door has been only positive. It is reported by staff that locking all doors, including the front door increases the feeling of security and safety in the school.
- Concern was also expressed about where the front entry is located in the Mannsville building. The point of entry is located in rather close proximity to the cafeteria, which concerns parents that it leaves the children too vulnerable in face of an intrusion. Suggestions were made to move the main entrance to another location in the school, such as closer to administrative offices.
- Suggestions were made for main entrances such as placing reflective window protection over the doors so that people within the school can see out but people outside the school can not see in.
- Another suggestion was to invest in panic buttons for the greeters. These buttons would only be used in emergency and would alert police that they are needed at the location.
- Jamie Moesel explained the difference between a lock out and a lock down. During a lock out, there is concern for danger outside of the school. During a lock down, there is concern for danger within the school. An attendee voiced concern that during a lock out staff is allowed to still come in and out of school. It was suggested that during a lock down or lock out, once you exit building you can not get back in.
- The school has been running lockout/lockdown practices. They try to not practice too much of this to keep the children’s anxiety at a minimum. One mother was moved to tears as she explained how her pre-k child showed her how she was to lay if a gun man were to come in. Another mother voiced concerned that neither of her kids were able to tell her where they were to go during a lockdown. Mrs. Moesel explained to the audience that Trooper Stevenson has advised her that the school can only prepare/practice for about 70% of scenarios. It is difficult to predict emergencies or how individuals will react in these types of situations.
- There was concern over the easy access to the schools after hours, when no greeter is available. It would be quite easy for someone to enter the school and simply not leave to gain access. It was suggested that during public events gates be used to close off all but main hallways. Building and grounds pointed out that there is a concern with fire safety when you use gates. A gentleman suggested a committee of volunteer hall monitors.
- Mrs. Moesel also said that there has a great increase in concern over the safety of children on the bus and the possibility of harm when the bus comes to a stop.
- In general, the major push was for a School Resource Officer to be assigned to every school in the district. One parent suggested that we as a community self-fund resource officers if the state/federal won’t. A student suggested talking to the town about hiring a school safety officer. Even if we can’t be assigned state troopers, it is a general consensus that even a security officer would increase confidence in school safety measures. One attendee pointed out that we can lock doors, place greeters with panic buttons at the door and install cameras but once an attack starts the only thing that will stop it is an armed officer.
- The meeting was wrapped up with Mrs. Moesel saying that all suggestions and concerns were right in line with what the board has already been discussing.
- On my behalf, I will be writing to Mrs. Moesel and requesting that Wilson, Middle and High School follow Mannsville’s examples and lock all doors during the school day. It may not deter an attack, but it will give the greeter increased time to call for help or order a lockdown.
- What can you do? Write Mrs. Moesel about your concerns. Write your local politicians and demand funding for school resource officers be restored in the face of Sandy Hook. Demand funds to be designated to increased school safety measures. It sounds as if several Jefferson County schools have been assigned officers, but South Jefferson has not been. We can not let this issue drop or fade away.
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