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Following the tragic December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., many school districts across the country are beginning 2013 by re-evaluating their schools’ safety procedures.
Anderson County is no exception.
School Resource Officer Joe Saunier checked the locked door of a Saffell Street Elementary classroom Tuesday morning during a lockdown, one of several drills being conducted at Anderson County schools that day.
“Kids have been doing an excellent job, everybody’s quiet,” Saunier, who has been a school resource officer at the Anderson County Middle School for about four years, said.
Officers walked the elementary wings and hallways, checking doors and waiting for no response when they shouted words like “sheriff” through the door.
Saunier said each classroom was instructed not to answer the door at all, even if someone says they are with the police department.
It’s small things like that, Saunier said, that they’ll be looking to improve as schools review their security measures.
School Resource Officer Paul Blackhurst, who works at Anderson County High School, said not all situations can be avoided, but conducting safety drills like the one at Saffell Street Elementary are important to get people thinking.
“All we’re trying to do is get people aware of the possibility,” Blackhurst said as he left Saffell to perform the next security drill at the high school, “get people thinking about ‘what if?’”
School officials and local law enforcement, EMS, city and county fire departments, as well as the Kentucky State Police, were scheduled to meet last week, according to Anderson County Superintendent Sheila Mitchell, to provide feedback and perform school safety assessments.
Representatives from city, county and state police assisted in conducting Tuesday’s safety drills as well as Mitchell, Saffell Street Principal Robin Arnzen, City Fire Chief Robert Hume and Director of Student Services Derek Shouse.
All schools, Mitchell said via e-mail, have been asked to review current safety procedures with their “front line” office staff and teachers.
As of press time, photo identification is not mandatory to enter a school building or attend a school-related function, but may be asked for photo ID prior to entering a facility.
“Photo IDs are required to be shown at schools when school staff do not know the individual visiting or picking up the students,” Mitchell said.
Visitors to Anderson County schools are required, she said, to enter the building through the front doors and sign in at the office to receive a visitor sticker.
Side and rear doors are being monitored throughout the day to ensure they are being locked, Mitchell said.
Some, but not all, Anderson County public schools possess a buzzer system at the front door of the building to control who is permitted to enter the school building.
A few administrators such as Saffell Street principal Robin Arnzen requested quotes on purchasing a buzzer system, Mitchell said, but it’s still to be determined if that expense, or other safety changes, will be funded by individual schools’ site-based councils or the Board of Education.
“Once the assessments are complete and suggestions are ready to be discussed, a scheduled meeting will take place with the team to review ways we can improve for the safety of our students and staff,” Mitchell said.
Arnzen said Saffell Street had already conducted a school safety check earlier that morning before local law enforcement arrived to perform its own drill.
She said it was important for the students to feel comfortable and as safe as possible during lockdown drills.
Saunier agreed, adding that they made sure most of the officers were in uniform to make the kids comfortable with the presence of officers.
“We’re going through everything we can,” he said, “and everything we can think of to make everything as safe as possible.”
administrator on school safety
Steve Carmichael, Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg school administrator, said school safety at the Academy isn’t necessarily heightened by the Connecticut shooting because school safety is a “focused, ongoing, conscious effort from day one when you become a school administrator at any level.”
Carmichael said in an e-mail interview that the Christian Academy, located in the former Early Childhood Center on Main Street, has a buzzer system and a camera for visual identification.
He said the school has a school safety committee that is reviewing the school’s current plan and maki ng adjustments to allow for the Academy’s building size and location.
Anderson Public Library
to update its security policy
What happened in Connecticut is unlikely to happen at the Anderson Public Library, Library Director Pam Mullins said.
But she’d like to explore options to improve security in the library building so staff and patrons can be secure and call for help if necessary.
“Since we are a public facility, there are many options that schools have that aren’t available to us,” Mullins said via e-mail. “We obviously can’t deny entry to the public or lock our doors during business hours.”
Mullins said the library staff will be evaluating the children’s programming room — mostly constructed out of glass — to see if the glass can be made opaque and an alternative exit can be created into the staff area.
She said the library will also look at changing locks on all programming, staff and storage areas so that they are lockable from the inside.
Other safety options the library is considering include:
• making access to staff areas by security coded keypads only
• upgrading security cameras
• changing some interior and exterior doors to have less glass
• replacing some wooden doors with steel or other more secure materials
• panic buttons at the desk to alert staff in the back and possibly the police
The library plans to conduct safety training for employees on how to protect themselves, Mullins said.
A meeting had been scheduled with a security technology firm for further recommendations, she said.