FARMINGTON — It’s been months since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but concerns about school safety continue to weigh heavily on the minds of many.
In a Feb. 18 email to parents, Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Susan Zurvalec said maintaining safe schools has always been a high priority for the district.
“For many years, we have had safety protocols in place and periodically update them in conjunction with our community’s police and fire departments. Our police liaison program, which places officers within our schools, has also been in existence for nearly 20 years. Yet, like many other school districts, the recent tragedy in Connecticut reminded us of the need to review our current safety measures and update them as appropriate,” she said in the email.
Immediately following the tragedy, the district added extra measures of security to its normal routine and formed a District Safety Committee — composed of staff members, and fire and police personnel from Farmington and Farmington Hills — to review the district’s protocols, examine best practices and determine if any changes need to be considered.
The new safety measures included locking all exterior doors, including entrance doors, at all K-eight schools during the school day, as well as monitoring entrances and meeting all visitors at the front doors and directing them to the main offices. There were no changes made at the high schools, which already locked all doors, except the front entry doors, which are staffed with a hall monitor in the front lobby to greet visitors.
Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Catherine Cost said the District Safety Committee focused its work around providing a reasonable assurance of school safety, improving reaction time in the event of a real or perceived safety threat, and increasing the awareness of and management of individuals entering school facilities. The committee also reflected on the many ideas, suggestions and feedback provided by parents, staff and community members, according to officials.
The committee developed a list of short-term and long-term recommendations, which were approved by central office administrators in early February.
“It’s a challenge to find the difficult balance between providing that reassurance of keeping schools safe, yet wanting them to be welcoming environments for students to learn, but I think, through the hard work of the committee, we found that balance,” Cost said.
The first short-term recommendation was for the district to install electronic video intercom door access systems, to be monitored by staff from the main office, to all main doors throughout the district.
“We knew that we couldn’t do that right away, so while we’re waiting to have those installed, we will continue to have our doors locked and monitored to verify who’s coming and going,” Cost said. “Hopefully (the installation of the video intercom systems) will be completed in all of our schools by early spring.”
The district also plans to install electronic key access systems to the front doors of every school, as well as the doors to all playgrounds and the staff entrances — if they are not in place already. The electronic keys will be made available to staff members and local law enforcement officials.
Bids for the video intercom door access systems and the electronic key access systems have not yet come in, but officials expect the new systems to cost the district around $150,000.
For the long term, the district hopes to one day be able to redesign all of its school entryways to funnel all visitors directly to the main offices.
“We know that’s going to require construction and that certainly is our long-term vision,” Cost said. “For example, at one of our upper elementary schools, the front doors not only lead to the first floor, but to two stairways. So if somebody was buzzed in, they could go up the stairways very easily. So by reconfiguring the school’s entrance, we would make sure that they would have to come to the main office area first, before having any other access to the school.”
In the email to parents, Zurvalec said the district will continue to plan, practice and routinely evaluate and update its preparedness in order to maximize the safety and security of students and staff.
“This includes each school participating in regular safety drills each year. We will also continue to make sure our families feel welcomed in their schools, as this, too, is a district priority,” she said.
Those with questions about the new safety measures are asked to contact Cost at (248) 489-3327.
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