School officials weren’t scheduled to do their annual review of safety and security on district campuses until later this school year, but given the recent horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary, Superintendent Martin Lexmond said it is chief they look at the district’s protocols sooner rather than later.
Tuesday night, Dennis Lewis, consultant and co-founder of Edu-Safe, presented his findings to Shorewood officials after he walked through district schools earlier this week. Edu-Safe is an advisory and training organization established to assist school administrators and others with the task of providing safe schools.
Lewis said the scope of his work was fairly narrow, as he only spent two days in the district, but it focused on how prepared the district is for "extreme acts of violence," such as an active shooter on a district campus.
Security, safety strengths within Shorewood, but room for improvement
During Lewis' inspection, he said he found some security strengths within the district like locked doors at main entrances, staff members that had a methodically-detailed plan of action in emergency scenarios, a double-gated main entrance at Shorewood Intermediate School and a campus supervisor at the high school devoted to being available to students and building relationships, so students know they have an adult they can talk to.
Having someone like a campus supervisor is critical in preventing acts of violence in schools, he said, as that individual is likely to pick up communication that something is wrong.
But he also outlined steps the district could take to improve security and safety in Shorewood, Lewis said.
Security protocols should be expanded to include plan for unique areas on school campuses like the high school auditorium, where hundreds of people could be on hand for a performance or concert, or the arena, where a large group could be watching a sporting event.
"The typical sheltering plans you have in place won't function well, because they are based on a typical school day with children in nice little pods spread throughout the building," he said.
Floor plans for district buildings should be provided to police, which Lewis said, hasn't been done yet. Having the building layout is vital to police during a situation. He added room numbers should be added to the outside of every window on each school so it can be visible from the outside.
Furthermore, the open campus lunch at the high school is a concern. Students are scattered throughout the school and it would prove difficult to get them all to safety during an emergency. Lewis recommended the high school provide designated areas for students to eat lunch.
Lewis also added officials should look into implementing a text alert system, which could alert students to an emergency or situation unfolding at the high school.
"It's a way of alerting kids so that they don't walk into danger, if they are coming back on campus, or are in between buildings and simply need to get further off campus," Lewis said.
When the board asked what the cost of some of these recommendations might cost, Lewis said he didn't have numbers, but many of the improvements have little to no cost associated with them. Additionally, there might be federal grants available soon to help with funding of safety and security improvements.
A balancing act
With that said, there is no way to absolutely prevent extreme acts of violence in schools, but putting into place protocols that will delay and impede an assailant entering a campus is your best option, and will give law enforcement more time to arrive before an incident escalates, Lewis said.
"Generally speaking, there will be a sufficient number in the community, close to half, that will believe you're always doing too much, and there will be an equal number in the community that believe you are doing too little," he said. "It really is a balancing act to maintain a educational climate that is fully conducive to learning, while at the same time provide enough safety and security so that learning can take place."