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School leaders: Shootings could spur local changes, but not immediately

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 8:05 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Kathy Smith, assistant secretary at Wild Rose Elementary School in St. Charles, prints out a visitor badge for high school volunteer Joslyn Marquez on Tuesday afternoon.

Those in charge of the region’s public schools said they aren’t sure what changes might be in store for their security policies and procedures in months to come.

But locally and across the country, officials at schools and other institutions centered on children have begun to evaluate their plans in light of last week’s shootings of 26 students and educators in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

“As with any time we experience a tragedy, it’s going to bring up a number of questions that schools need to consider,” said Jeff Schuler, superintendent at Kaneland School District 302. “And it begins with how, potentially, we can make our buildings safer.”

In the Tri-Cities and Kaneland, the review work began even before classes resumed Monday, as administrators from local public schools met over the Internet and huddled in person early in the morning to discuss their plans.

But the meetings, local superintendents said, were intended primarily to stress the need to further tighten procedures already in place.

All the school officials contacted noted that they believe local schools to be safe and secure, thanks to plans that have been drafted and refined through the years with input from school administrators, security consultants and local law enforcement.

Precise security procedures can vary slightly among school buildings, based on how the buildings are laid out, school officials said. But generally, local schools follow similar procedures.

Once students are in the building each morning, the doors to a school are then locked. All visitor traffic into the school is channeled through a main entrance, which is monitored and controlled remotely from within the school’s front office.

Visitors are required to show identification and demonstrate that they are in the school for legitimate reasons before being allowed into the school beyond the front office, school officials said.

Administrators at local school districts said visitors to public schools should expect that school staff now will become even more intense in requiring not only proper identification, but that visitors remain where they are supposed to be in the school and keep visible and prominent their school-issued visitor passes.

“Visitors who violate any of our policies will likely find themselves escorted out of the building, by police, if necessary,” said Jack Barshinger, superintendent at Batavia School District 101.

Administrators also noted that schools regularly review their security plans, including holding drills at least once a year with local police and fire departments to simulate a range of emergencies, ranging from bus accidents to a scenario involving intruders in the school or “active shooters.”

At St. Charles School District 303, for instance, Superintendent Don Schlomann noted that every classroom in the district contains documents outlining the procedures to follow in times of emergency, with steps detailed down to the specific room and building.

And those emergency procedures are practiced at least once per year, Schlomann said in a message to the District 303 Board of Education.

All administrators contacted said the Newtown tragedy could prompt further revisions to the security plans. But what those changes might entail will not be known for some time, they said.

Barshinger said the Batavia district is rolling out some new visitor screening measures at its elementary schools in January. But he said those procedures were the result of planning begun long before the Newtown killings, and have no relationship to that incident.

For now, administrators said, they are waiting for more details to emerge on the Newtown massacre before school officials take more steps to either change security procedures or tighten current policies further.

“There is nothing that has been reported so far on this incident in the media that is worthy of taking action on,” Barshinger said.

He and Schuler, for instance, noted that, while reports indicate the killer may have used his weapons to shoot his way into the school, there should be no rush to install bulletproof glass in the schools.

The superintendents said such installations have been discussed, in passing, in years past, but they noted that installing bulletproof glass would bring a host of new challenges.

“It’s not just as simple as saying, ‘Let’s swap out the panes of glass,’” said Barshinger.

For now, Barshinger and the other superintendents said they are awaiting formal reports and recommendations from the FBI and other police agencies. Barshinger said he expects those to begin arriving within the next few weeks or months.

Formal security policy changes could then follow during the 2013-14 school year.

“I have my own theories on what to expect, but we’ll wait to see the actual reports,” Barshinger said.

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