Local school districts enforce security in wake of Sandy Hook shootings

Amy Cooknick

Local school districts are evaluating and increasing school security systems this semester to better prepare for the event of an intruder entering a school building.

Beth Coleman, superintendent of Field Local School District, said that parents of students have contacted her about school security since the Newtown, Conn. school shooting Dec. 14.

“Any parent that had a question, I called them personally after the shooting and I’ll be addressing safety at the State of the Schools address in late February,” Coleman said.

To help students, Coleman said the district has made more counselors available this semester and hired a second school resource officer to patrol the Brimfield and Suffield schools. Field is also in the process of installing security cameras and concrete barriers around school buildings to prevent intruders from entering the schools.

“All the upgrades have been purchased by our local police department by a donation through an anonymous donor,” Coleman said. “The (cost of) the second school resource officer is being split three ways. The Suffield Trustees are contributing a third of the salary, the Brimfield Trustees are contributing a third, and then the School Board is contributing the rest. We each are spending $20,000 to get the second officer in the building.”

Coleman added that staff are also being trained in the Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate (ALICE) response method, a procedure being adopted by the Rootstown, Ravenna and Kent School Districts.

Bill Wisniewski, director of Business Operations at the Ravenna City School District, said ALICE training is similar to a fire or weather drill in the way it prepares students for what to do in the case of a school shooting. ALICE training is an inexpensive addition to security systems, which normally cost around $15,000 per district, Wisniewski said.

“The fire drill is always plain speak, so now we’re learning to say ‘Shooter with a gun’ so that kids are comfortable walking out of a building for a drill,” Wisniewski said. “We’re not afraid to show them (firemen coming into the schools with all their gear), so we’re also saying we want them to see how policemen are also possibly going to have to come into their building to protect them.”

The ALICE response begins with an alert over the school intercom system informing students and staff that an intruder has entered the building, Wisniewski said. If a gunman or other dangerous individual enters an occupied classroom before it can be evacuated, students and teachers are trained to throw any available objects at the intruder and to distract the intruder long enough to complete evacuation.

At Kent City Schools, teachers have prepared ALICE “Go Buckets” as part of their response to the Sandy Hook shootings, said Jim Soyars, director of business services for the Kent City School District.

“We’ve had Home Depot donate a number of buckets to us and we’re looking to fill them with some items and put them in each classroom,” Soyars said. “If we have an incident at the school and we have people who are locked down and barricaded, it’s going to take a while after the police response and for them to clear the building. People could be in their classrooms for hours, so the Go Buckets will be filled with items students and teachers will need if they’re going to be in there a long time.”

In addition to ALICE training, the Rootstown Local School District is re-evaluating how visitors enter the buildings.

“We do have cameras outside and inside the buildings and a buzzer system in each building,” said Andrew Hawkins, superintendent of Rootstown Local School District. “The camera shoots the image of the person outside, and there’s an audio system and they can’t get in until we unlock the door with a button.”

Hawkins said Rootstown, like the rest of the school districts, are making changes to be more aware of the security already in place at their schools and to use it correctly.

“It’s been a good move for us and a step in the right direction,” Hawkins said. “And obviously we’re going to continue to update our emergency handbook as we go.”

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].