John Douglass shared an attention-grabbing statistic Monday night at Shawnee Mission South High School: Seventy-five school shootings have occurred since the December 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 people were killed, including 20 children.
Douglass, the Shawnee Mission School District’s director of safety and security and a former Overland Park police chief for nearly 19 years, mentioned the spate of shootings at the first of five planned town hall meetings on the district’s new safety and security plan. About 25 people attended the meeting.
The district also has scheduled public meetings on the plan at its four other high schools: West on Wednesday, East on Nov. 17, Northwest on Nov. 18 and North on Nov. 19. All are scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The need for upgraded security was underscored in October, Douglass said, when an intruder jumped a fence onto a playground at Oak Park-Carpenter Elementary School in Overland Park. No child was harmed during the episode, he said.
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Two school-age girls also were killed recently in Kansas City-area drive-by shootings, and a deadly school shooting occurred in October in Marysville, Wash.
At Monday’s meeting, Douglass summarized the district’s two-pronged plan, designed to upgrade and centralize its emergency operations and improve security at all the district’s buildings. The emergency operations component went into effect in late July, he said earlier Monday.
“The plan is never done,” Douglass said. “We’re constantly revising it.”
The district has upgraded security at 16 schools, including 15 elementary schools and Horizons High School. The timing of additional upgrades, he said in response to a question from the audience, depends on the outcome of a proposed $223 million bond issue, which voters will determine on a Jan. 27 mail-in ballot. The bond wouldn’t require a property tax increase.
All the security upgrades could be in place by the end of summer next year if the bond measure passes, Douglass said. If it fails, the upgrades could take four to six years to implement, he said.
Douglass said the district had purchased a system made by Raptor Technologies that will give district staff, with the swipe of a driver’s license by someone attempting to enter the school, access to public databases to check information about the person, and to the district’s Skyward system for information about students’ family contacts and other information. The system will be implemented by the first of the year in all the district’s schools, he said, adding that he will recommend its inclusion in the new administration building. It is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016.
Douglass estimated additional security upgrades and security systems for new buildings would cost $20 million.
Douglass said he’d started working on the security plan on May 1 with a security assessment of all the district’s buildings and recommendations for upgrades.
“Every single school is undergoing an evaluation of threats specific to that school,” he said. “We’ve done it for all the high schools, and we’re in the process of doing it for all the other schools.”
The plan grew from district Superintendent Jim Hinson’s view when he started with the district early last year that security upgrades were necessary, Douglass said. Heightened concern about security “goes all the way back to Columbine,” he said, referring to the shooting deaths of 13 people and the wounding of more than 20 others by two students at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999.
The district also used two surveys of patrons, one last year of 500 people and another earlier this year that yielded responses from 564 patrons and 1,051 district staff members, to help create the plan.
Respondents indicated that they wanted a comprehensive review of security measures and a plan to ensure safety and security of students, staff and faculty, Douglass said.
“We have to listen to what they say and then make recommendations,” Douglass said.
Brenda Holcomb, who has two daughters at South, said she was receptive to Douglass’ presentation Monday.
“I just came for the education,” Holcomb said. “I have a better understanding now than when I walked in.”
Donna Warshaw, also a mother of two South students, said she “didn’t feel afraid in the first place, but I’m glad they’re thinking ahead to prevent things.”
Warshaw said she supported the bond measure.
Though the district is releasing many details of its plan, “we don’t give out tactical information,” which could cause security threats, he said.
Building upgrades include the addition of buzz-in security systems that enable school doors to be locked during the day and feature a buzzer, camera and speaker. No metal detectors are planned at any schools, and the plan also doesn’t call for staff or teachers to be armed, Douglass said.
“We have the ability to create the same kind of atmosphere you get at Sprint,” he said. “Maintaining the perimeter is absolutely vital to creating a safe and secure environment.”
Teachers will be trained on how to make the best choices based on different scenarios, such as whether to lock classroom doors or try to flee. The emergency plan includes protocols for handling school intruders, pandemics, epidemics, sexual assaults, mass illnesses, tornadoes and a total of 20 general threats.
“We tell teachers, ‘You are the captain on a lifeboat,’” Douglass said.