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Burrell School District ramps up security efforts

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 12:22 a.m.

Burrell School District officials will continue to consider security options to make the district's four schools as safe as possible.

Superintendent Shannon Wagner this week told the school board and residents that administrators routinely review security procedures internally and with Lower Burrell police, but the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has prompted them to take a closer look.

“We can't be short-sighted and believe this cannot happen to us,” Wagner said.

Wagner said staff will review safety procedures, and district officials will continue to discuss whether an array of security measures — from hiring guards to installing bullet-proof glass — would be appropriate at any of Burrell's schools.

Last fall before the Sandy Hook shooting, staff watched and discussed an instructional video about what to do in a “critical incident” such as an intruder or someone armed with a gun.

Wagner said administrators since have met several times to review safety procedures, including collaborations with Lower Burrell police.

They intend to schedule walk-throughs to ensure police are familiar with the school buildings.

Police will be on-hand on Jan. 21 when staff practice lockdown procedures. Wagner said parents will be notified of the lockdown drills even though they will occur on a day reserved for professional development when students don't have class.

Meanwhile, officials are discussing the necessity, cost and feasibility of security options such as adding guards, improving locks, alarms and public-address systems, and installing bullet-proof glass.

One improvement planned for the elementary schools is new electronic locks similar to those that recently were installed at the high school and have been in use at the middle school, Wagner said. The system allows doors to remain locked at all times because staff can enter with electronic key passes.

Bruce Coleman, the district's director of nonprofessional services, said he's investigating many of the suggestions as they relate to district facilities.

Some are as simple as numbering exterior doors as references for emergency responders. But most upgrades won't come without a cost, he warned: “Everything is expensive.”

Any recommendations likely will be addressed during the budget-planning process this spring, Wagner said.

Meanwhile, she said they're reviewing existing safety procedures with staff, such as always wearing identification badges, making sure doors are not propped open, always having keys on hand, making sure visitors enter through appropriate entrances and questioning visitors about why they're there before letting them inside.

Wagner said another important aspect of preventing violence is the “relationship of trust” built between students and staff. That trust can encourage students to come forward with concerns or even allow an adult to reason with a distraught student.

Wagner pointed to a school shooting in California a week ago in which a teacher and another school staff member were able to talk an armed student into putting down his shotgun.

School board member John Marhefka, a Lower Burrell police officer, praised the district's efforts: “I commend you for being progressive and proactive.'

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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