Sandy Hook prompts Vermillion district to review buildings’ security

The deadly shootings last month that left 26 people dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT has prompted school officials to review security measures at the Vermillion School District's four school buildings.

It also will be bringing about changes to several of those buildings all with the goal of making them safer.

Superintendent Mark Froke told the Vermillion School Board Monday that suggested security upgrades include the addition of interior door locks on classroom doors in all of the district's buildings.

Security upgrades will also include the addition a front door buzzer and locking system – similar to the one that's been in place for several years at the high school – at the middle school and at Jolley and Austin elementary schools.

"We have the high school building's front door locked during the day," Froke said. "That is not the case at the two elementary and middle schools."

Other upgrades listed for the district's buildings include placing locks on the gymnasium interior doors at Austin and Jolley schools, clean exterior door locks at the middle school, and additional camera surveillance at all four schools.

Suggested improvements to the high school include replacing and/or repairing existing door locks and repairing some door latches so that the doors close easily.

Froke also noted that Austin and Jolley schools – two of the district's older buildings – need a comprehensive intercom, telephone and clock system.

"I contacted a security firm to come in and take a look at our schools, and provide some quotes for you to look at at a later point," he told board members. "There are definitely some things that need to be addressed."

At the middle school, for example, there are some doors that open to the inside off a commons area.

"In the case of a fire, you want the doors opening out so that kids and staff can move out of that area fast rather than pulling back on the doors to get out," Froke said. "During normal operations, there are some things that you just don't notice, but when you start taking a look at your facilities in terms of security, there are some things that stick out."

How quickly every item that's been identified will be implemented will depend on the total price tag.

"When we get the quotes back and I share them with you, maybe we won't be able to do all of these in one or two years," he said. "We'll just have to see what the costs will be."

Froke noted that much time has passed since any of the exterior door locks on any of the school buildings have been changed.

"I've had in my mind that it would good to have an electronic key system … but that gets into an expense as well," he said. "Most all of these items are capital outlay area items."

"Like the rest of the nation, Vermillion certainly shares with the loss of those at Sandy Hook," said school board member Shannon Fairholm. "One thing that a lot of people aren't aware is that Sandy Hook was actually ranked as one of the most secure schools in the nation. If someone wants to get in, no matter how good of a school and no matter how good the security, they're going to get in."

A lone gunman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 26 people – 20 young children and six adults – before taking his own life.

"I am grateful for the team that has come up with these things for us to take a look at and there is always room for improvement," Fairholm said.

Modern intercom and telephone systems have been put in place in recent years at the high school and middle school.

"The communication (system) is very weak at Austin and Jolley," Froke said. "That's definitely a security issue. On a day-to-day basis, even, when we're working with children, you don't want a teacher leaving a classroom to come to the office to seek assistance from the principal. It's best if they can pick up a phone and call the office."

At the top of the superintendent's list of suggested security upgrades is the addition of interior locks on classroom doors.

"Right now, we have door locks that lock on the outside, and they don't lock from the inside," he said. "In the case of an emergency, when we have a lock-down drill, the teacher has to fumble with the keys, get outside the door, and lock the door from the outside.

"We have that in all of our buildings, and it would be better if we could have an interior lock on all of those classroom doors," Froke told the board. "I've contacted a contractor to go through and give us a quote on all of those, and I'll be bringing that to you to see what you think of that."

Safety issues have been a topic of discussion at recent meetings the superintendent has had with the district's teachers. Such input has revealed some doors on buildings that needed only minor repairs to their latches, while some doors have been "sprung," Froke said, and need to be pushed hard before they will latch.

"We have to look at those as well," he said.

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