Stricter security measures are being implemented at Oneida schools, in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.
The incident — in which a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 students and six faculty members with a semiautomatic rifle before killing himself — has caused school systems across the country to reevaluate student safety, and administrators at the Oneida Special School District say theirs is no exception.
“When we talk about school safety, we are also talking about community safety,” OSSD Director of Schools Ann Sexton said. “The events at Sandy Hook Elementary have illustrated this. When the lives of children are in jeopardy, then the community is also at risk.”
Oneida Police Department chief Darryl Laxton and officers Shonda Duncan and Blake Murphy toured the elementary school soon after the December shooting in Connecticut and formulated a list of recommendations to improve student safety.
OPD’s recommendations ranged from the presence of an armed security guard at the school every day to all exterior doors, including classroom doors, being locked at all times.
“Our children are the greatest natural resource we have,” Chief Laxton said. “Why not take care of them?”
Sexton said Monday that OPD’s analysis — coupled with input from parents — have resulted in several measures being implemented.
At the elementary school, an employee is posted at the front doors to monitor persons going in and out each morning when students are arriving for classes. Parents who enter the building are required to have a pass that is issued to them. And, once students are inside and classes begin, the entrance door is locked and visitors arriving at the school have to be admitted by school personnel. All interior and exterior classroom doors are also locked.
Beginning next week, Sexton added, cafeteria exit doors where pre-kindergarten students currently enter will be locked. Pre-k students will be required to enter through the main lobby.
Additionally, the school system is moving forward with plans to install a lock buzzer on the front door and tinted film on exterior-facing windows.
Sexton said that parent groups are working with school personnel to plan and implement the safety procedures, while Knox County Schools safety director Steve Griffin has been invited to tour the school and make additional recommendations.
“We all want a community school; we want to be friendly,” elementary principal Rick Harper said at Thursday’s meeting of the OSSD Board of Education. “But there are some things we’re going to have to look at differently.”
At the middle/high school complex, Sexton said outside doors will be locked — except for the main front doors — after the first bell. The front doors will be monitored by school personnel.
OHS principal Kevin Byrd said Thursday that not every change to routine security should be disclosed. But, he added, “Rest assured that we’ve identified some areas and we’re taking care of that. We want to assure parents that this is paramount in our minds and security of our kids is top priority, along with academics.”
Laxton said that in addition to the heightened awareness of school security measures created by the Connecticut shooting, an incident that occurred at Oneida Elementary last week also underscores the need to review security measures. That situation involved a man who had allegedly been stalking a teacher enter the school. He was subsequently arrested.
“You tend to get relaxed over time,” Laxton said. “(But) this is the time to make changes, because the public will be more receptive of them right now.”
Sexton said that she will attend a school safety summit later this month, along with other directors of schools across the state, to gain more ideas. And OSSD administrators intend to tour other schools to gather input on security measures that have been implemented there.
“We can never be complacent with our safety procedures but must always be vigilant to weak areas in policy or structure protection,” Sexton said.
She added that the public will be made aware of the implementation of additional security procedures.
OSSD Board of Education chairman Dr. Nancy Williamson said she did not anticipate too much negative feedback from parents upset by the more stringent security measures.
“I think parents will be pleased with the measures we take because they know it is for the students’ safety,” Williamson said.