New Albany-Plain Local School District building principals met Monday, Dec. 17, with Superintendent April Domine to discuss the district's security procedures.
The meeting was prompted by the Friday, Dec. 14, murder of 26 students and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty-one children and six adults were shot and killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza of Newtown, who also died from a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In a message sent to parents Dec. 16, Domine wrote, "The overwhelming grief we share causes us to reflect on how precious life is, how awesome the heroism is of those who care for children each day and how we must never cease to strive for intensifying our safety and security efforts."
It included details of the district's visitor check-in procedure that was enhanced Dec. 17 with a greeter stationed in the main entry of all buildings on campus. The greeter's job is to ensure all visitors sign in and wear a badge; the greeter also will keep an eye on all adults that enter the buildings.
Domine's message to parents reminded them that all doors are locked at the middle school and elementary school buildings except for front doors and main entrances. Several high school doors remained open in 2012, but that will change in 2013, she said.
The district faces some challenges with the open concept of its campus, in which middle school and high school students have to leave the school and go into a separate building housing the cafeteria. Some middle school students also are required to cross a grass oval and enter the high school to attend classes.
District spokesman Patrick Gallaway said the district already has implemented a badge system that will begin Jan. 7 when students return from winter break.
Middle school and high school students will be required to wear a badge that will unlock doors to the cafeteria and both the middle and high school buildings. This will allow the district to lock all high school doors except for the main entrance.
Many of the badges already had been distributed before the Dec. 14 shootings.
Elementary students will not require badges for building access because they always are with a teacher who will have a badge and can gain access, Gallaway said.
Domine encouraged the faculty in her message "to constantly remind ourselves of our vulnerabilities, proper check-in procedures for visitors, building door access and overall campus security inside our buildings and on the campus grounds. We have been considering how to improve security with our open-campus concept and our front-entry architecture. We have taken a very positive step with our key-card system and the locking of secondary doors to our buildings. Middle school and high school students will begin using key cards beginning the first day back from break to enter all buildings. We have also been researching improvements to front door security including buzz-in systems and remodeling/redesign."
Gallaway said a buzz-in system would allow the district to lock all doors and would require visitors to request entry before being able to gain access to any building.
He said all staff members and students also are being asked to use the district's anti-bullying procedure -- "If you see something, say something" -- in regard to school safety.
Parents were asked to offer suggestions on building safety and security and given information on how to talk to their children about the issue and other resources if they require more information.
Administrative staff members also were expected Dec. 18 to participate in enhanced training on securing the schools that was initiated last month by the district's school resource officer, Kevin Deckop.
"It had been scheduled for some time now, " Gallaway said. "We will go through that (Dec. 18) as an administrative team and then be able to roll it out for teachers, staff and students most likely when we return from winter break in January."
New Albany Police Chief Mark Chaney said the district already completed lock-down drills for each building. The drills "are designed to ensure the protection of students against acts of violence such as terrorism and the presence of weapons in a building," according to Domine's message to parents.
Chaney said, unfortunately, if someone wants to get into a school building, he or she can. In the Connecticut shooting, he said, the gunman shot out a window and a locked door to gain access.
"You could make the school a fortress," Chaney said, but then parents and volunteers would have trouble getting in.
He said it is a challenge to make a school an inviting, open and fun place that is safe, without making it seem like a military zone.