Last week, an intruder jumped the fence onto a playground of a Shawnee Mission School District elementary school.
No children were harmed during the episode at Oak Park-Carpenter Elementary School, said John Douglass, former Overland Park police chief who is the district’s new director of safety and security.
However, that incident and recent local and national shootings indicate a need for stepped-up school security, he said. Two school-age girls have been killed recently in Kansas City-area drive-by shootings and a school shooting occurred last week in Marysville, Wash.
“You only have to look at what happened last week in Washington to see these events haven’t gone away,” Douglass said.
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At a board of education workshop Monday night, Douglass presented information regarding the school district’s new emergency operations plan. The plan, designed to centralize emergency plans throughout the district, also comes in response to a districtwide survey of patron’s concerns and expectations.
The survey, conducted earlier this year, indicated patrons favor a comprehensive review of the district’s security status along with a plan to ensure the safety and security of students, staff and faculty.
“This new emergency operations planned is aimed at keeping our kids safe,” Douglass said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency reviewed the school district’s emergency operations plan in August. “We took our plan to a FEMA training session,” Douglass said. “It follows the FEMA model for major events.”
Douglass will address the plan with patrons from each of the five geographic high school attendance areas at workshops scheduled at each high school in November.
The district will not make its security plan public, so as not to reveal tactical information that could be a security threat, spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said.
The plan is part of a two-pronged approach that includes both an emergency operations plan and a capital campaign calling for security upgrades.
Security upgrades have already taken place at 16 Shawnee Mission schools, Douglass said, including 15 elementary schools and Horizons High School. Additional upgrades will take place at the district’s remaining schools if a proposed $223 million bond issue is approved by voters in January. “Patrons’ taxes wouldn’t increase, however, because the bond doesn’t require a property tax increase,” Douglass said.
Building upgrades involve the addition of buzz-in security systems that allow school doors to be locked during the day. The systems feature a buzzer, camera and speaker.
Douglass estimated additional security upgrades and security systems for new buildings would cost $20 million.
No metal detectors are planned at any schools, he said. Additionally, the plan does not call for staff or teachers to be armed, he added. “That is something that would have to be approved by the board and no discussions are scheduled regarding that at this time,” he said.
Douglass said the district does not want to create a jail-like atmosphere. “Our goal is to create the type of security you see at businesses,” he said. “Also, we will be training staff, teachers and students life skills designed to help them save themselves in an emergency.”
Instead of requiring students to hide and remain in place during an episode, teachers will be trained how to make the best choices based on different scenarios, he said.
“Classrooms are like lifeboats,” he said. “The teacher will make the decision whether it’s best to lock the door and have the children hunker down or attempt to get away.”
To assist teachers, the school district has developed an app available on teachers’ iPads outlining protocols for 10 general threats, he said.
“There is a checklist of actions the teacher can follow in an emergency,” he said.
The emergency plan includes protocols for handling school intruders, pandemics, epidemics, sexual assaults, mass illnesses, tornadoes and a total of 20 general threats. Specific threats to individual schools are also addressed in the plan based on a detailed school analysis and a 32-page survey focused on locating vulnerabilities, he said.
Additionally, a school architect has examined each school and made recommendations for the safest location for students, teachers and staff during a severe storm or tornado threat.
Safety and security town hall meetings
Safety and security town hall meetings led by John Douglass, newly appointed Shawnee Mission School District director of safety and security, will be held throughout November at each Shawnee Mission School District high school.
Douglass will address the district’s new safety and security plan with patrons from each of the five geographic high school attendance areas. Each workshop will feature a briefing and question and answer session regarding the plan and safety and security in general.
The public is invited to attend the meetings, each from 7 to 9 p.m.
Nov. 10: SM South
Nov. 12: SM West
Nov. 17: SM East
Nov. 18: SM Northwest
Nov. 20: SM North