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After Newtown, Wichita-area school districts emphasize security measures

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, at 8:41 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, at 10:41 a.m.

Before 7 a.m. Monday at Wichita Heights High School, principal Bruce Deterding had sent an e-mail to his staff to let them know all exterior doors except the main entrance would be locked at 8 a.m. each school day.

“I realize this may be an inconvenience to some,” he wrote, “but we will not compromise safety and security of our students and staff so someone doesn’t have to walk a bit farther.”

Ronny Lieurance, chief of the Goddard school district’s police department, and his four officers altered their routines Monday so they would be more visible at schools until the holiday break starts Thursday.

After the break, he said, the district will consider expanding buzz-in access to its two high schools.

“There are going to be a lot of conversations like that all across the country,” Lieurance said.

Indeed, in the wake of the killing of 26 people – including 20 children – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, politicians and school officials are taking a hard look at what else they can do to protect the nation’s students.

An Oklahoma lawmaker is drafting a bill that would allow the state’s school officials to carry weapons after receiving the proper training. A Missouri state representative said it might be time to allow trained teachers, administrators or volunteer security to carry concealed guns on school premises.

A school district in western Pennsylvania went so far as to get a court order over the weekend so it could arm officers at each of its schools Monday. The board had voted to arm its police recently but decided to expedite the process.

In the Wichita area, most districts aren’t planning to do anything different – at least for now – but they are busy stressing to school staff to be vigilant about carrying out security measures already in place.

John Allison, Wichita’s superintendent, sent out an e-mail late Sunday night, reminding staff at buildings to “always be vigilant about checking visitors in, asking for identification if you see someone whom you don’t recognize. ... Ensure that your building’s existing safety plan, including doors to be locked, is properly implemented.”

Deterding wasn’t the only Wichita principal who reminded his staff about security. Teachers and staff at other district schools said they received similar e-mails or verbal reminders.

“I would hope every building is doing a review and some kind of evaluation of just making sure they are up to speed 100 percent on meeting those guidelines,” said Debbie McKenna, executive director of safety services for Wichita public schools. “Unfortunately, when you have a huge tragedy, that really does make us re-examine how we do things.

“What can we do better? We can always improve. One person doing something a little bit differently can breach that security.”

She noted that teachers and staff on Monday were trying to make themselves visible in the halls to students.

“Really interact, make eye contact with kids,” she said. “Let them know there’s a concern and awareness. We’re here to support you and keep you safe.”

At Andover, school district spokeswoman Keturah Austin said, “Certainly schools are going to review their crisis plans. It never hurts to be extra prepared.”

Maize students aren’t in school this week because they began their break Friday. But the Maize district, which has its own police department, isn’t planning any security changes at this point, spokeswoman Karen McDermott said.

That was also true for Derby schools.

“We have a district crisis plan that we evaluate continuously,” said Heather Bohaty, Derby’s assistant superintendent for human resources.

For Goddard schools, Lieurance and his officers usually spend school day mornings at the district’s two high schools trying to keep young drivers from crashing into each other. That was before Friday.

“We’ve dedicated ourselves, especially for the next three days, to being more visible at as many facilities as we can with increased patrols,” Lieurance said. “We want people to know that at least we’re watching and doing the best we can.”

All of Goddard’s schools – except the high schools – require visitors to press a buzzer to be admitted by school staff who can see the person from a monitoring camera.

“The biggest concentration of visitors during the school day is for the lower grade levels,” Lieurance said. “Parents are bringing snacks for parties or for other reasons.”

High schools are a whole different story.

“The students are more mobile,” Lieurance said. “We have students that leave during the day to go to auto shop, different vo-tech classes or work studies. We’ve got outside physical education classes. We’ve got groups of students coming and going all day long, so it would be practically a full-time job for somebody to sit there and buzz people in and out of these high schools.

“But after the new year, we’re going to see if we want to move in that direction.”

Other districts also have high schools with multiple unlocked doors and students on the move. The shop class for Andover High School is in a different building, Austin said.

Wichita’s East High School presents unique security problems with its expansive main building with three floors and a separate building.

“It is a logistics nightmare,” McKenna said.

Three of East’s doors remain unlocked during the day. But McKenna said the school is vigilant about having staff in those hallways to keep watch.

“They watch every person who walks in and talk to them,” she added.

Only a few elementary schools in Wichita require visitors to use a buzzer to enter. Most Wichita schools have undergone bond projects in recent years that have entryways with double doors that require visitors to pass through an office before entering a school’s main corridor.

Visitors can support school security by making sure they follow that procedure, McKenna said.

“Please help us and don’t bypass it just because you’ve been there before and are only going to be there five minutes,” she added. “That’s endangering and making our buildings vulnerable when they don’t follow the rules.”

She said it’s also important that students follow the training they are given in case of a crisis.

“It’s not time to ask, ‘Why do I have to do this?’ ” McKenna said. “When they know what we want and what we expect, they become part of the solution in terms of school safety.”

She has had calls from parents asking for a copy of the crisis plan at different schools. They won’t be getting one because that could undermine security, she said.

“They can go to the school and look at it,” McKenna said, “but we’re not making copies.”

In the back of school officials’ minds is the awareness that security measures weren’t enough to stop the Connecticut gunman. He used a weapon to force his way through a locked door.

“There’s never a way to be prepared for everything,” Andover’s Austin said. “But it’s very important to us that our students are safe.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or at rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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