Building safer schools
Security a priority in local districts
ALPENA — Buzzer systems, security cameras, and liaison officers are a common thing in school districts to keep students safe — and to keep parents aware that their children are safe when they go to school.
Since 2013, there have been five school shootings in the state of Michigan during which someone has been injured or died as a result of a gunshot, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. That website states that there have been 370 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the country since 2013.
Some local school districts have been updating their security measures in every way possible to prevent the possibility of such an incident from happening.
IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL SECURITY
Alpena Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner said that district is not where it wants to be security-wise, but is looking at upgrading its security.
“You look at the schools within our athletic league, we are farthest behind as far as security and the types of upgrades that are really needed for a district our size,” VanWagoner said.
Alpena is looking at a potential bond proposal in 2019 and the district wants to use some of that money to upgrade each school with a secure-entry vestibule and a waiting area for parents to pick up their children. VanWagoner said that, when he sees school renovate, they are adding such entrances, and he wants to see Alpena do so, too.
Currently, there no barriers to people who walk into Alpena schools; they can avoid the school’s office and just walk down a hallway.
“We feel in these times that is not safe,” VanWagoner said.
“I am not personally willing to sacrifice or look at any alternatives to the best options that we could get to maintain the absolutely best security that we can get for our students and parents,” VanWagoner said.
Hillman Community Schools and Atlanta Community Schools Superintendent Carl Seiter said in an email to The News that security is discussed often in both districts. He said information is gathered after every drill, and that allows both districts to identify potential trouble spots in the process.
“After an administrative debriefing upon the completion of the drills, district staff work on solving the problem or amending our procedures,” Seiter said.
He said an issue schools face is having an emergency when a substitute teacher is in the building. He said taking steps to ensure that substitute teachers are informed about a district’s emergency procedure is essential to student safety.
Within Montmorency County, Seiter said Atlanta, Hillman, and Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools work with the county sheriff’s department, local fire departments, EMS personnel, the Michigan State Police, and the county’s emergency manager to come up with common terminology to use for emergency procedures.
“That helps our substitutes understand procedures from one district to the next,” Seiter said.
Posen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Michelle Wesner said that, long-term, schools think about their crisis management plans and emergency produces and protocols.
The buzzer system, security cameras, and liaison officer are visible to parents at Posen, Wesner said. She said there is one main entrance where administrators can see who is coming in and out of the school at all times. Having those measures in place helps parents know their children are safe at school and that the staff is looking out for their children.
“They know that we have those technologies and, at this point, they come to expect it out of the schools,” Wesner said.
Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Dan O’Connor could not be reached for comment.
Buzzer systems allow for all doors to be locked and, in order for someone to enter a school, they have to buzz in and be allowed in by school staff. Included in some buzzer systems are cameras that allows a school administrator or secretary to see who is at the door before making a decision to let them in.
Buzzer systems also have an intercom where a school administrator or secretary can talk with whoever is at the door.
In Alpena, VanWagoner said all buildings except Alpena High School have buzzer systems. VanWagoner said the district wasn’t able to afford the buzzer systems for the schools, so each school’s Parent Advisory Councils fundraised in the spring to be able to purchase the buzzer systems.
Ella White Elementary School was put on lockdown in March because of a possible intruder on school grounds. Ella White was the only elementary school at the time that had a buzzer system, and, as a result of the possible intruder incident, other elementary schools and Thunder Bay Junior High School got buzzer systems after fundraising was completed.
Seiter said buzzer systems were implemented this fall in Hillman for both the elementary school and Jr./Sr. High School.
There is also a key fob system that allows district employees access to the building without having to give everyone keys, Seiter said. He said the doors have been rekeyed, with staff having active cards to access the building through a card-reader system on three outside doors.
“The staff monitor the student drop-off areas at the elementary as well as the high school and junior high end of the building each morning and staff are present during dismissal,” Seiter said.
Seiter said people have to use a buzzer to enter Atlanta’s building.
Wesner said Posen received its buzzer system through a federal Every Student Succeeds Act grant. She said each administrative office has access to the buzzer system, along with the intercom, so staffers have the ability to talk back and forth with the person at the entrance.
When people enter, they have to pass the office before they’re allowed into the rest of the school, Wesner said.
Security cameras allow schools to have video footage of any situations that arise inside or outside of schools. Security cameras can also be placed on buses in case a situation takes place there.
None of the elementary schools in Alpena have inside or outside security cameras, VanWagoner said.
Alpena High and Thunder Bay Junior High have security cameras, but not enough, because they don’t capture every area inside and outside of the school, VanWagoner said.
“Right now, we wouldn’t be able to see what a vehicle would look like or have a description or what car they got into or even if a kid got on the wrong bus, we wouldn’t know with all the technology we currently have,” he said. “We have some real work in need and necessity to be able to improve those things.”
With Hillman’s voters approving a new property tax for facilities upkeep and upgrades in the Nov 6 election, Seiter said that district can address issues with safety. He said the district can install security cameras that will be accessible by the Montmorency County Sheriff’s Department. He said the front entrances of both buildings will be modified and secured.
“The modifications I envision would direct all visitors to building offices,” Seiter said. “This would prevent any access to the rest of the building unless they are granted access from office staff.”
For Atlanta, Seiter said there’s a camera system within the building and outside the building. There are also cameras on the buses.
Wesner said Posen has cameras installed in the elementary school wing, junior/senior high school wing, both gymnasiums, parking lot, and common areas, along with cameras on all the buses.
“We have those systems in place for day-to-day functioning,” she said.
A liaison officer is a police officer who is in the school at all times making sure that the building is secured.
Alpena High and Thunder Bay Junior High each have liaison officers from the City of Alpena and the Alpena County Sheriff’s Department. VanWagoner said the elementary schools do not have liaison officers, but, if requested, an officer can visit any of the elementary schools.
“They’re good about it, but we do not have dedicated officers to those buildings,” VanWagoner said.
Seiter said Hillman and Atlanta do not have liaison officers, but he would like to have them in place. He said they’re the most effective school security measure.
“With the ongoing cost of a position like this, the district is forced to come up with creative and collaborative ways to finance this,” he said.
Posen has a liaison officer, David Whitford, who is housed in the building and works with the school to make sure it’s secured. Whitford also helps with different drills and procedural checks throughout the school year.
“He works with any issues as far as law infractions,” she said. “A lot of it is just communicating with the kids and getting them to feel like he’s on their side. He’s here for their safety and he’s here to support them.”
Wesner said Posen, Rogers City Area Schools, and Onaway Area Community Schools work together to hold practice lockdown drills three times a year.
Julie Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 989-358-5688.