The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 2, 2013

Officials work to make schools safe, secure

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — School security is a front-burner subject at schools in Oklahoma and nationwide in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 students and six adults.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb formed the 23-member Oklahoma Commission on School Security to come up with ideas and recommendations to improve security at schools statewide. The commission, made up of law enforcement, school personnel, health care professionals and parents from across the state, will hold its final meeting Tuesday, ahead of the deadline for bills to be introduced in the Legislature.

Lamb said the commission has listened to presentations from experts in their fields.

“We’ve had a very thorough set of presenters,” Lamb said.

Presentations are followed by small-group discussion.

“Our goal is to come up with recommendations for the Legislature,” Lamb said.

Lamb said the commission has come up with about 40 recommendations so far. Some of them include professional development for school staff regarding bullying, reinstating Oklahoma Safe Call Program, standardizing crisis plans, improving counseling quality and disciplinary records, creating regional school security assessment teams, securing entryways with bulletproof glass and providing security training by qualified law enforcement.

Enid Public Schools

Shawn Hime, superintendent of Enid Public Schools, said the heart of school security is the on-site safe school committees that monitor the security of each building.

“They know what’s best for their school site,” Hime said.

Each and every door, both interior and exterior, in Enid schools has a new lock mechanism as part of the districtwide renovation project, Hime said.

Schools also have regular lockdown drills and have had law enforcement officials come perform drills as well.

Hime said the district is looking forward to hearing the final recommendations of Oklahoma Commission on School Security.

“Pending the outcome of Lt. Gov. Lamb’s committee, we are once again looking at our buildings, seeing what we can do to make our buildings safer,” Hime said.

Hime noted students don’t learn well if they believe they are not safe at school.

“The number one thing for an effective school is the students feeling safe and secure,” Hime said. “That’s what we are striving for is to get to that point.”

Hime added anyone interested in school security can get involved in the issue.

“I encourage anyone interested in this topic to talk to your child’s principal and volunteer to be part of the safe school committee,” Hime said.

Another issue regarding school security is the availability of counseling services for students who need it, Hime said.

“I think that’s a huge piece of this,” Hime said. “We not only have school counselors at every school site but we have an agreement with Youth and Family Services to provide help with any counseling our students need.”

Chisholm Public Schools

Chisholm Public Schools Superintendent Roydon Tilley said the district has been reviewing all of its security processes to try to determine if there are weak links that need adjustment.

“We tried to go about making a through evaluation of our processes and spent some money trying to make some adjustments in our processes,” Tilley said. “I think that’s a continuing process.”

Tilley said he also looks forward to seeing recommendations from Oklahoma Commission on School Security.

“I trust Lt. Gov. Lamb,” Tilley said. “He’s got a great background and some great people on the committee to take a look at that and make recommendations.”

Lamb is a former Secret Service officer.

Kremlin-Hillsdale Public Schools

Jim Patton, superintendent at Kremlin-Hillsdale, said the district hopes to upgrade security by installing surveillance cameras throughout the elementary school and the parking lots.

That hope hinges on a $200,000 multi-purpose bond issue on Tuesday’s ballot. The money would replace one school bus and one Suburban, projected at $130,000, and install security cameras and make needed repairs to lunchroom equipment for $70,000. The security cameras are projected to cost less than $20,000, Patton said.

The bond issue, if passed, is expected to have no effect on property taxes.

“We have 18 wind turbines coming on, and those will pay for the increase in taxes,” Patton said.

“I think with the security upgrade, our principals, assistant principals, secretaries and superintendent will have eyes on the security cameras,” Patton said.

Patton said the district has been reviewing all its security protocols — such as evacuation plans and lockdown — since the incident at Sandy Hook. The idea of installing security cameras had been discussed before, but the school board decided to proceed at the January meeting.

“With the Sandy Hook event, it kind of drove the point home,” Patton said.

Kremlin-Hillsdale also plans to have staff training on security as well as collaborate with law enforcement.

“That’s going to make things way better,” Patton said.

Ringwood Public Schools

Tom Deighan, superintendent of Ringwood Public Schools, said the school district has worked closely with Major County Sheriff’s Office to increase the presence of law enforcement at schools during the day and at special events such as ballgames. Doing so helped relieve parental concerns, Deighan noted.

“This year we’ve done our intruder-on-campus emergency drills,” Deighan said. “We did one right after Sandy Hook.”

Major County Sheriff Steve Randolph gave a presentation to the school board during the January meeting, Deighan said.

“He gave us some recommendations,” Deighan said. “We’re looking at all sorts of options.”

Deighan noted no amount of security measures and crisis preparation can prevent something from happening.

“A determined person is a danger no matter how good our security is,” Deighan said.

He said he’s noticed an uptick in people contacting the school with concerns about things that might be warning signs.

He said someone like the Sandy Hook killer “are not normal people. They are not people we can think like — that’s the horrible reality that’s settling in on schools,” Deighan said.

Ringwood school board is formulating its next bond proposal and, as part of that process, looking at what security needs should be included, Deighan said.

“At some point every school system will have to decide how much will be taken out of the classroom for safety issues,” Deighan said.

Woodward Public Schools

Tim Merchant, superintendent at Woodward, said school safety is “a constantly evolving, constantly changing” issue.

Merchant notes school security became a widespread public concern after the 1998 shooting at Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Ark., and has remained so because of later shooting incidents at Columbine High School in 1999,  Virginia Tech in 2007 and, now, Sandy Hook.

“With each incident that has occurred you have a different scenario,” Merchant said.

Woodward’s seven school campuses have run through extensive drills and had emergency service agencies come to the schools to run through intruder scenarios in the schools, Merchant said.

“The thing we’ve learned through the process of these drills is every situation will be different,” Merchant said. “You can practice and practice on one scenario, but what we’re trying to train our teachers and staff is to think and make good decisions on the fly.”

The reason for that is simple.

“Whatever they are going to have to do, they’re going to have to decide on the fly,” Merchant said.

Like Ringwood, Woodward is looking at how much money will be needed to upgrade security.

“We’ve taken what security measures we can — and can afford — at this time,” Merchant said. “We’ve changed locks that need to be changed and added some security cameras. We’re in the planning stage for our next bond issue, and that will be part of the next bond issue.”

Merchant noted making a building hard to get into means it is also hard to get out of, and that could be a problem in an emergency such as a fire.