Burrell board focuses on school safety

Liz Hayes
| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

A group of Burrell School District parents on Monday indicated having a school resource officer and creating more secure building entrances were two of the top safety measures they'd like the district to implement.

Superintendent Shannon Wagner invited parents who responded to a security-related survey earlier in the school year to participate in a focus group to expand on the survey topics.

Wagner said more than 500 people participated in the survey, including students, staff and about 350 parents. Nearly 90 of the parents indicated an interest in being contacted about their responses; not quite 20 of those parents attended Monday's meeting.

Wagner reviewed some of the survey responses, including:

• 90 percent felt Burrell does a reasonable job of protecting children.

• 83 percent felt Burrell's schools are safe after school hours, a response Wagner questioned: “I would have disagreed.”

• 73 percent reported knowing a child who had been bullied in the past six months: “We've got a quarter of our population being in a situation where they were uncomfortable at some time,” Wagner said.

• Security measures that 80 percent or more of respondents said they'd like the district to implement include more security cameras, more secure entrances, daily searches of student belongings and random searches by a police dog.

Wagner noted several measures have been completed, are under way or are planned for next school year.

Those include making the entrances more secure by installing “mousetraps,” which require visitors to pass through two sets of locked doors; installing electronic locks that staff can open, preventing the need to leave doors unlocked; installing “announciator” panels that indicate when an exterior door is open; improving security cameras; undergoing a professional assessment of security threats; requiring all secondary students to wear identification badges; and reviewing procedures for after-school access to buildings.

Other options that have been discussed but not acted on include: hiring an armed police officer to act as a school resource officer; more regularly using metal detectors; installing X-ray equipment to screen student bookbags; improving gates that prevent access to portions of buildings; installing additional locks or other devices on classroom doors; and making windows more bullet-proof.

Wagner said finances, staffing or feasibility, or a combination of all three, have prevented the district from moving forward on the latter options.

The parents on Monday were asked to individually rank nearly two dozen security measures, then work in small groups to further prioritize the options.

Hiring a school security officer and making entrances more secure received the most votes.

Among the next level of priorities were secondary locks on classroom doors, safety glass, a security threat assessment, student ID badges and more restrictive after-school access.

Regina Seidel of Lower Burrell, who has three children in the district, said she'd like to see better screening and restrictions on all visitors — even regular parent volunteers — when they enter a school and the creation of student advisory groups that can tell staff about possible problems within the student body.

“The students know more about what's going on in the school than anybody,” Seidel said.

Wagner agreed that preventing bullying and making students feel comfortable enough to discuss potential problems was an important aspect.

“Ninety-five percent of school violence is associated with people already inside building. Newtown was an anomaly,” Wagner said of the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. “We need to be prepared for that, but we need to be even more prepared for the 95 percent.”

Wagner said district officials would continue to review procedures and would continue to communicate with the focus group.

“You can't back off,” she said of the need to perpetually review security. “Otherwise, you get lax. You just buzz the door and let people in.”

Denise Blose of Lower Burrell, who has a child in Huston Middle School, said she appreciated the district's proactive measures.

“I was so glad when they sent out the survey,” she said. “It makes me feel good they're trying to do this stuff.”

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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