Update on school safety initiatives
Near the end of the 2012-13 school year, County Post readers were informed of a number of initiatives taking place in the Waupaca School District to provide a safer environment for students and staff.
This column is to update readers on progress made toward achieving those initiatives.
The most visible change to those entering our schools will be the process for entering the school building. During school hours visitors will be able to enter the first set of doors before encountering a second set of locked doors.
Visitors will be required to push a button to talk to a secretary who will ask enough questions to verify the purpose of the visit and remotely unlock the door. Visitors are then required to go to the office, sign in, and receive a visitor’s badge in trade for a set of car keys or some other item of value.
The purpose of requiring a ‘deposit’ for the visitor’s card is to assure visitors will not walk off with the badge when leaving the building. It is important to inventory the badges so random people cannot use misplaced badges to roam the schools.
All employees now have name badges with their picture and are expected to wear those badges while in the schools. No one, other than students, should be in the building without a badge. Students, employees and visitors are asked to report anyone who is in the building and not wearing a badge.
We have always welcomed parents, grandparents and the general public into or schools – and we continue to do so. I believe students and adults benefit when we have visitors in our schools. While the new procedures appear contrary to that belief, it is the price we pay for improving student and staff safety.
The district’s security camera system has been upgraded and additional cameras put in place at all school buildings. The cameras may be viewed from remote locations and have zoom capability much greater than before.
While no one is assigned to monitor cameras throughout the day, there are a number of computers throughout the district with monitoring capability so they may be viewed randomly throughout the day. The cameras have already been invaluable in identifying illegal or inappropriate behaviors.
In addition, all of our school buses have camera systems installed. This has greatly improved the district’s ability to investigate problems occurring on our buses.
The traffic flow at Waupaca Learning Center and Waupaca Middle School was also cited as a potentially hazardous situation for our students both before the school day and at the end of the school day. Dropping off and picking up students has now been made much safer with the significant re-design of both parking lots. As a result, emergency vehicle access throughout the school day has also been much improved.
Another area of concern addressed with these new initiatives was our communication capabilities between and within schools.
Cell phone coverage is now available throughout our school buildings due to the installation of signal boosters in strategic locations.
Additionally, a radio communication system has been employed giving administrators, teachers, aides and coaches the ability to communicate problems while outside the building to someone inside or the other way around, within buildings from any location, and between buildings. One specific radio channel is monitored by the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office in case an incident needs immediate attention.
Another potential weakness identified previously included forced access through glass windows and doorways. Subsequently, windows and glass doors at strategic locations throughout the district have been reinforced with a protective layer intended to keep glass from shattering and thereby allowing easy access for an intruder.
The only previously identified initiative the district was unable to accomplish was the addition of a second school-police liaison officer. Police Chief Tim Goke wrote a COPPS grant in the hopes of securing a second officer, but the grant was ultimately unsuccessful. This initiative will be placed on hold for the time being.
In terms of safety plans for operations within the district, we have worked together with other Waupaca County schools and the Waupaca County Emergency Management personnel to develop consistencies around best practices in responding to and/or preventing emergencies. This exercise included an extensive walkthrough of buildings and grounds to identify potential threats to the safety of our students and staff.
The district will also be adopting a new Standard Response Protocol based on best practices learned from those schools that have already experienced traumatic situations. This protocol is easier to remember and implement in a hectic situation. Parents will be informed of the new procedures in the near future.
The cost of these initiatives was within the budget approved by the school board. Most of the money, approximately $763,000, came from the district’s capital expansion fund and approximately $246,000 came from the district’s operating budget for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 budget years.
As discussed in the previous article, these safety measures are not aimed solely at protecting students and staff from an armed intruder. Students, staff, and visitors are much more likely to be harmed or placed in danger by acts of nature, vehicle accidents, other students, non-custodial parents, or chemical spills, than an active shooter in the building.
The new safety measures, working together, also address these and other potential hazards.
David P. Poeschl, Ph.D., is the district administrator for the Waupaca School District.