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Schools Taking Steps To Enhance Security One Year After Sandy Hook

Stephen Craven

One year after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, many school districts claim they are safer than they were last December.

School districts across the country have bolstered school security in the year following the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook that killed 20 children and six educators.

In a recent survey conducted by the New York State School Boards Association on superintendents’ assessment of their schools’ safety, most believed they are more safe than they were at this time last year.

Timothy Kremer is Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association.

“What we found was about 60 percent of them indicated that they believe that they are safer today then they were a year ago.”

In the same survey, 39.5 percent said their districts were equally as safe, .5 percent said their schools were less safe, and one percent were unsure.

The most common thing schools did in the past year to improve safety was updating emergency response plans, according to NYSSBA’s survey. Many schools also added security cameras, hosted a random police presence in schools, and installed buzz-in systems at school entrances.

Randy Collins, 2014 Regional Director of the American Institute of Architects New York State and President of CS Arch in Albany, a company that works with school systems to improve safety, said securing the entrance of a school is one of the most important steps a district can take.

“The key thing to make a school safe, and probably the highest priority, is to make sure you have one single point of entrance that is well defined for the public," said Collins.

Collins and his firm, CS Arch, worked with the New York State Education Department to develop a school safety assessment survey, which is used to develop improved school safety protocols.

In addition to entranceways, the survey also looks at site safety, which includes separating bus and parent pickup and creating a safe exterior. In addition, the survey also looks at core spaces and classrooms and corridors - ensuring communication between the offices and classrooms, as well as providing adequate door hardware and locks.

The School Boards’ Kremer said, however, many school districts indicated that the security upgrades they pursue can get expensive, especially improvements that involve the hiring of personnel, such as student resource officers or security guards.

Kremer said he’d like the state legislature to include a particular line item in the state budget for school security expenditures.

“The other thing we are recommending is that under the tax cap there be an exemption made that would allow for a local community to expend their own funds in order to put in additional security measures if they so chose.”

Private and parochial schools, however, are also making upgrades.

Jane Kromm is Principal at St. Clement’s Regional Catholic School in Saratoga Springs.

“We’re trying to increase security within the building without creating a fortress," said Kromm. "So [we're] looking at our entry ways and also even changing traffic patterns so we can better track people who are in our building."

Randy Collins of CS Arch echoed Kromm’s sentiment that school should remain a welcoming place for students, however safety measures always come down to a school’s individual policy decision.  Collins used the installation of metal detectors at some schools as an example…

"The issue is [the school] is still a community center," said Collins. "You still want it to be a welcoming place, particularly at the entrance. So if metal detectors are installed there's two approaches. One is to make them invisible so that people don't know they're there, the other is to be obvious about it and have them be visible, and that really becomes a policy decision."

Jane Kromm said because of the upgrades made at St. Clement’s, she does consider the school safer one year after Sandy Hook.

"I think we're on our way there, this is all still being completed, the work is being completed - it's not all done yet - so I think we are on our way to being more secure than we were a year ago."

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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