Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Are students safe at Blaine County schools?

District implementing $2.24 million in safety and security upgrades


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Scott Manning, the Blaine County School District director of safety and security, demonstrates how a new card reader system operates on a door lock at Bellevue Elementary School. Photo by Roland Lane

Blaine County School District officials tried to make Monday as normal as possible for the district’s some 3,400 students, but normalcy was somewhat overshadowed by last Friday’s events in Connecticut, where the second largest school shooting in U.S. history occurred at an elementary school.

Normalcy in Blaine County was disrupted shortly after the shooting occurred Friday morning, when, according to district Communications Director Heather Crocker, school officials and district trustees began receiving “many calls from concerned parents” regarding the safety of schools in the county. Later that day, the district issued a press release informing the public of the numerous security upgrades that have been put in place during the past several years.

The Connecticut shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. According to news accounts, the shooter, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, blasted his way into the school through a locked door and killed 20 first-graders and six school staff before killing himself. Before going to the school, Lanza allegedly killed his own mother at her home and took several guns from her collection. Investigators have not yet identified a motive for the killings.

On Monday, the Idaho Mountain Express received the following written statement from district Superintendent Lonnie Barber.

“I have asked staff to try to make this day as normal for our students as possible,” Barber stated. “I was at two schools as they opened this morning to greet parents and talk to staff. Assistant Superintendent John Blackman and several of our board of trustees were also at the schools to provide extra support as the school day began.

“We have been in contact with local law enforcement agencies through the weekend and they have increased patrols near the schools and will remain on high alert over the next few days. Our school safety director, Scott Manning, will be making rounds to each of the schools all week.

“Our biggest focus right now is on putting our students and staff at ease and helping any staff or students who have concerns.”

In the School District’s Weekly Update online newsletter, Barber is further quoted as stating that “classroom discussions about the shooting are discouraged, particularly at elementary schools.”

“I understand that the subject may come up and be unavoidable,” Barber stated. “I have suggested to staff that if a student broaches the topic and needs support beyond the classroom, I recommend contacting our wonderful social workers or principals, depending on the grade level.”


“Our biggest focus right now is on putting our students and staff at ease.”
Lonnie Barber
School superintendent


Crocker explained in an email to the Express that the School District was trying to keep the Connecticut tragedy low key in order to not overdramatize the situation to children.

“This message is coming from faith leaders, school leaders, etc.” Crocker stated. “It will be challenging for local parents who have thus far kept the news from their children to protect them if the story is seen on the front page. I think that local parents feel pretty strongly that they want to be the ones to tell their own children, if they tell them anything.”

    In response, the Idaho Mountain Express is not distributing today's newspaper to Blaine County elementary schools.

The Connecticut shootings come at a time when the School District is nearly at the end of implementing $2.24 million in safety and security upgrades at the district’s eight schools and at the district-owned Community Campus. The funding was authorized in a 10-year $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in October 2009.

Planning for the upgrades began as early as 2008, when the School District adopted its strategic plan and identified safety and security as goal No. 8.

A first step, before the plant facilities levy was even approved, was the hiring of Manning, a former Ketchum police detective, as fulltime safety and security director in September 2009. Prior to being hired, Manning had worked with school officials on developing security plans that could be implemented in the event of an emergency.

Expenditure of the $2.24 million in safety and security upgrades began in 2010 and continued through this year. Some work, such as installation of new electronic lock systems at some of the district schools, will continue into 2013.

The most visible security upgrades occurred last summer when new entrances were built to Wood River Middle School and Wood River High School. Now, entry into the buildings during school hours can only be made through doors next to the school offices, where visitors are required to sign in and state their reasons for being there.

Another major upgrade is the installation of security cameras throughout district schools and at the Community Campus. Once installation is finished, the district will have about 180 of them. Camera viewings can be made available to local police so they can better assess the situation and response in the event of an emergency.

Other improvements have included establishment of full-time police resource officers at the middle school and the high school, lockdown procedures that can be put in place in the event of an emergency, close coordination with local law enforcement agencies and a new card reader system for school locks.

In a written statement to the Express, school board Chair Steve Guthrie reiterated the importance of school security.

“I would like our community to know that safety and security of our Blaine County students is and will always be a priority,” Guthrie stated.


Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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