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Schalmont residents offer ways to improve security

Buzzer entry, evacuation site among suggestions

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
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— Installing a buzzer entry system for school buildings, designating an off-campus evacuation site and conducting more lockdown drills were among the recommendations of community members to improve safety in the Schalmont Central School District.

About 50 people attended a safety forum Wednesday night at Schalmont High School. Like many schools, the district has been reviewing procedures in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

High school Associate Principal Jackie Gordon, who serves as chairwoman of the district’s safety committee, outlined steps the district has already taken. Starting last fall, Schalmont officials implemented a system where guests must present their driver’s license or other identification. This is scanned into the computer, which checks the state Sex Offender Registry and prints out a visitor’s pass.

Also, the exterior doors of all district schools are kept locked during the day. The district also conducts training exercises, according to Gordon.

Another change is the main entrance doors are unlocked 15 minutes before an evening activity and locked 15 minutes after the activity. For example, people going to the YMCA-run program at Jefferson must now call an on-site phone to be able to enter the building. School officials are thinking of expanding that policy for adult education programs.

Superintendent Carol Pallas said among the ideas the district is considering is more frequent lockdown drills.

“We don’t tend to do them as often. It might be a good idea to increase them throughout the year so people are more familiar with the procedures related to them,” she said.

Pallas said the district is looking to implement new ideas — many of which require funding — so school officials wanted to hear from the community.

One such idea is to issue new identification tags with bar codes for staff and visitors, according to Pallas.

“We could have the safety procedures right on the ID badges, so in an actual emergency, they could be right at your fingertips,” she said.

Another suggestion is to install buzzer systems to enter a building, which none of the schools currently have, and provide more controlled access to buildings. Jefferson Elementary School has two entrances, with one set of doors taking people into a vestibule, from which they have to go through the main office to get into the school.

Other ideas were installing more security cameras and having a different-sounding alarm for the lockdown drill, as well as silent alarms.

Robert Denny, a Rotterdam police sergeant and district resident, said adding more drills is a good idea. He pointed out schools are required by the state to conduct 12 fire drills per year and no child has been killed in a school fire in the state since 1950.

“How many lockdown drills are you mandated to do? None. When’s the last time someone was killed in a school?” he said.

Residents also said an off-site location was needed in case students needed to be evacuated. In a crisis at the school, parents cannot be coming to the school and interfering with the work of first responders.

Pallas said many of the community’s suggestions were ideas administrators had at the top of their lists. She hoped to have some recommendations for the Board of Education by late February or March.

 
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