Grant addresses security risks
After the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last winter, the Washington County school districts began thinking about upgrading their security.
On Wednesday, April 3, three superintendents from the Washington County School districts attended the Washington County Riverboat Foundation (WCRF) board meeting to speak about their first-ever-joint grant request.
“Unfortunately the reason you have this proposal before you tonight is because of what happened at Newtown, Conn., Sandy Hook Elementary, which has caused a ripple effect all across the nation as far as the schools,” said Dr. Mike Jorgensen, superintendent of the Washington Community School District (WCSD) which is one of the districts asking for grant money to improve security. “I mean it was within hours we were getting phone calls from parents wondering what we were going to do to upgrade our security.”
Those in attendance were Chris Armstrong, superintendent of the Highland Community School District; Mark Schneider, superintendent of Mid-Prairie and Keota Community School districts; and Jorgensen. The districts are asking the WCRF Board for $484,000 of a $667,000 project to update security at the schools in Washington County. Each district included its own breakdown in the grant request of what the security updates would be.
Jeff Brock, technology director of the WCSD, wrote the grant and presented to the board about what improvements the schools would be able to make if the grant money was approved for them.
“This grant covers about 4,500 students in the county and about 500 staff members, so its impact is pretty wide,” Brock said. “We have things in place that need upgrades.”
The security items the districts are looking into include updating camera systems, door sensors to notify staff members when a door is opened, updating communication systems like having two-way radios or another location for intercom systems in addition to the front office, and a buzz-in system for the schools.
“Talking about door security, this is one of the big pieces we’re looking at,” Brock said. “In our district (WCSD) we’ve got 64 sets of doors to monitor. That’s a lot for our staff to try to keep an eye on to make sure that somebody doesn’t put a prop in the door—you know, make sure it’s locked.”
Brock said with the exception of Lincoln Elementary and Washington High School, people could walk into the other school district buildings without the front office knowing.
“With what we’ve seen that really shouldn’t be today,” Brock said. “What we’re trying to do is keep people out that shouldn’t be in the school and if somebody is really intent on getting in, like out in Connecticut we’re going to have a little bit of warning. They’re not going to be able to walk right in the building and start something up.”
Jorgensen said the districts all participated in training with local law enforcement a couple of weeks after the incident in Connecticut and law enforcement said the key was response time.
“The longer it takes the more lives it will save,” Jorgensen said. “What you are presenting I can’t guarantee you is going to prevent a shooter from being in the building but it’s going to save several lives.”
Highland Community School District would use the grant money for door sensors and the buzz in system, Armstrong said. Mid-Prairie Community School District would use the grant money to install panic buttons and to update their camera systems, Brock said.
The WCSD already has the camera updates scheduled in their four-year technology plan but with the grant money other security updates would happen faster, Jorgensen said.
“We would install the buzz-in system in the rest of our buildings,” Jorgensen said. “But not right away if the grant money isn’t awarded.”
Armstrong appreciated the WCRF board letting the districts come to present.
“This would help with student safety,” he said. “It would be great to partner with the Washington County Riverboat Foundation to do so.”