Visitors to Oneida schools will soon experience a significant change to the way they enter the facilities, as the Oneida Special School District continues to implement new safety protocols in the wake of a rash of school shootings that dominated national headlines during the 2017-2018 school year.

Soon to be gone are the days of visitors simply opening the front door and entering the lobbies of each school. Instead, visitors will encounter locked doors and audio-video surveillance that requires school staff to approve admittance to the building.

Dr. Jeanny Hatfield, Oneida’s director of schools, announced the changes over the weekend. 

Called the Limited Access Video Intercom Door Release System, the new security system has been installed at each of the OSSD’s three schools.

“This system will consist of an audio and video surveillance of each visitor from the outside of the buildings,” Hatfield said. “Once the visitor is assessed by a school official from the visual monitor, and approved for visitation, the door will be opened electronically from the main office, allowing the visitor to obtain entrance inside the school.”

The heightened security protocols are the result of conversations initiated by Hatfield and her administrative staff in February, on the same day a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and killed 17 students and staff while injuring 17 others.

Before the 2017-2018 school year ended, the OSSD had implemented a number of changes. Among them, parents and guardians stopped being allowed to drop off students from the front entrance to the middle-high school complex, and the use of handheld metal detectors and backpack searchers were implemented.

Hatfield said students have experienced increased camera coverage and metal detectors at the middle and high schools since the start of the 2018-2019 school year. Now, she said the limited-access entry system will become part of the daily routine for visitors to the schools.

“This process is a change and it will take some time to adjust to these changes,” Hatfield said. She added that the changes “will help increase security as well as decrease fear and anxiety among staff and students.” 

The new entry system at Oneida is not unlike a new entrance constructed at Scott High School for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. There, the main entrance for visitors was moved from the north side to the south side of the administrative offices, and an interior barrier was constructed — consisting of a block wall and solid steel doors — to prevent unobstructed entrance to the school. Office staff can see, and speak, to visitors via audio-video surveillance, and the doors can be opened electronically once visitation is approved. 

Both Hatfield and Scott High principal Melissa Rector told the Independent Herald previously that complaints about heightened security have been limited, particularly as parents and other members of the community are informed about the necessity of the new security components.

“The overall goal is to improve the physical security of the facilities within the Oneida Special School District,” Hatfield said Sunday. “The security of all students and staff is a priority which impacts the learning environment.”