Public schools are no stranger to safety issues, but they have been in the spotlight lately with the mass shooting in Connecticut in December.
West Richland School District Superintendent Gary Miller said his district was preparing to meet with Richland County Sheriff's Department to review its safety plan. He added that the district reviews the plan annually and always asks, “Is there something we can do better?”
Miller said visitors have to enter the schools in one area and that he has heard the comment that the schools are like Fort Knox, a comment that he views as a compliment.
There are security cameras at both West Richland Elementary School and West Richland Junior-Senior High School, and he is interested in trying to obtain security cameras to install at the playground at the elementary school.
East Richland Superintendent Marilyn Holt said that in 1997 there was a push by Illinois State Board of Education for more school safety. She was part of that push because she worked for the board at that time.
She saw the aftermath of a deadly shooting in November 1997 at a school in Paducah, Ky., when she visited the site.
“When you see those kinds of things, it reminds you of the vulnerability of all of us,” she said.
Following December's shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., Holt said there was a strong security presence, although some people may not have noticed it.
“We try not to keep our heads in the sand,” she said.
Schools started creating safety plans in the late '90s and updating them annually. East Richland held a community forum following the mass shooting in Littleton, Colo., at Columbine High School. The event led to a variety of security changes in the district.
“The first responsibility of a school district should be to keep kids safe,” she said. “We take that responsibility very, very seriously.”
The district works to promote its Safe Schools Plan, she said, and it is accredited by the state. Holt said she has met Olney Police Department officials.
Visitors are required to be “buzzed in” at East Richland Elementary School, East Richland Middle School and East Richland High School, Holt said. At the elementary school, anyone walking a student to class is required to sign in and wear a badge indicating they are a visitor.
The high school installed a gate to the back entrance after the shootings at Columbine.
There are numbered exits in schools in addition to safety locks and doors. Classrooms are also numbered. Maps and phones are also available in classrooms.
iPads used by administrators at ERES have the ability to show every security camera that is located in the building no matter where the user is located.
Page 2 of 2 - “We are so much better than we were in 1997,” Holt said.
There has been more of a police presence at certain school events, especially athletics. Holt asked for the public's “patience and understanding.”
However, Holt said that despite districts having more than 15 years of experience with developing security plans and training, she does not want schools to be a like prisons or a place of fear.
“We want them to be a source of peace and joyfulness,” he said.
She noted that despite the concerns about school safety, she feels that they are, by and large, the safest places to be.
She said the district could use money for upgrades of security equipment, such as cameras, but with so many cuts, that may be difficult to accomplish.