School security has come a long way since the days of the one-room schoolhouse where everyone knew one another and the worst threat imaginable came from the boy in the back row who continually pulled the girls’ pigtails.
Times have changed and school districts such as Park Hill have systematic security plans, and they were in place when school started Aug. 13.
Park Hill School District’s plan includes indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras with centralized monitoring, “active shooter training” for staff, a visitor management plan that limits access to the interior of the school through immediate check-in protocol and other safety measures.
Park Hill School District, which has about 10,000 students, is composed of two high schools, three middle schools and 10 elementary schools.
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At the school board’s meeting in late July, Josh Colvin, district director of student services, reviewed the progress of a safety and security plan developed by parents, teachers and other community members in 2014. The plan is an ongoing process, with additional measures added every year.
“We want a safe and caring environment for our students,” Colvin said, adding part of that includes emergency preparedness training with the help of local law enforcement and the health services department.
Last year, law enforcement worked with staff on how to respond in the event of a shooter incident by an intruder, he said. The staff did table-top discussions about different scenarios and about how to respond. This training is done on an annual basis.
“There haven’t been any recent incidents in regards to dangerous intruders on the grounds – but that’s something we want to be prepared for,” Colvin said.
The schools have a system that allows students and parents to anonymously report suspicious activity, he said.
The district is in the process of adding exterior fencing around all perimeters of the schools.
“Having fences that announce the (school) property lines — that’s very important,” he said.
The district has a system to monitor the school doors.
In the 2014-2015 school year, the district added more interiors cameras, and currently the district is installing additional server capacity for its security video.
Nicole Kirby, district director of communication services, said Park Hill High School, Park Hill South High School, Congress Middle School and Lakeview Middle School each have school resource officers. All district students from seventh through 12th grade have a student resource officer at their schools.
The SROs are uniformed police officers from the Platte County Sheriff’s Department and Riverside Public Safety (Park Hill South), Kirby said. These officers help maintain the safety of the schools and educate students about law enforcement.
Michael Atchison, incoming president of the PTA at Plaza Middle School, has children in the district. Atchison was part of a group that took part in the planning of the current security plan.
“Generally I feel good about the plan,” Atchison said. “Obviously the district is taking it seriously. They’ve done a careful study” and developed a plan that is “appropriate and focuses on adding more cameras and recording more video.”
The district is also focusing on after-hours staff training, he said, referring to the fact that fewer staff members are available after hours.
Sports, clubs, daycare in the elementary schools and meetings take place after the school day closes, he said.
In the past, a person could enter a school door and walk some distance before checking in at the front desk, but that has changed, he said.
“The district has repositioned the front desks so a visitor has to navigate through a series of front doors, which is useful,” he said.
Kirby said the district reconfigured the entrances of each building so that visitors must check in.
Sherri Scott has two children attending school in the district. She is the PTA president of Park Hill South High School and Lakeview Middle School.
Scott said she “feels comfortable” that her children are secure while in school and that the district “takes security very seriously.”
“As much as staff know me, I am still expected to follow the same procedures as anybody else when entering the building,” she said.
Anyone who enters the building to check-in has a photo ID taken, which is stored on the computer, she said. The schools take part in several safety drills throughout the year, including some related to security, she said.
The school district does a good job explaining the security precautions to parents, she said. It sends a lot of information home for them to read.
“It is our responsibility as parents to open it, read it and be aware,” she added.