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February 20, 2013

RCS approves video security system purchase

District continues to focus on school security, months after Newtown tragedy

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — Since December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Rochester Community Schools officials have been examining the district’s own safety protocols and the security of its buildings.

On Feb. 11, the Board of Education unanimously approved an expenditure of up to $179,142 to purchase and install video intercom door access systems, as well as expand its door card-reader access systems, at the district’s elementary and middle schools, the Alternative Center for Education and the Rochester Alternative & Adult Center for Education. The new security systems should be installed by spring break.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Dan Romzek said the district’s Critical Incident Team — which recommended the two systems — has met frequently in the last couple of months, somewhat in response to the tragedy in Connecticut, but also to take a good look at the security in its schools.

“We have implemented several measures to provide a more secure environment for our staff and students and for parents,” he said.

Immediately following the tragedy, the district added extra measures of security to its normal routine — which includes requiring visitors to sign in and out at the front office, and wear a name badge while inside a school. The new measures included locking all exterior doors, including entrance doors, after students arrive; monitoring entrances and meeting all visitors at the front door and directing them to the main office; and adding extra Rochester police and Oakland County Sherriff’s Office patrols around the schools.

But with the Connecticut shooting fresh in their minds, officials — and many parents — felt more needed to be done.

Since December, parent volunteers have been on hand allowing access to visitors at all of the district’s elementary schools, the four middle schools, as well as ACE, but once the video intercom door access systems are installed, they will no longer be needed.

“The device is fairly simple. It has a wide-angle lens, an audio box and a doorbell that would be installed in the exterior of the building. Inside the building, at the secretary’s station in the main office, would be a unit that has a small video screen and allows for the staff members to converse back and forth with the person at the door. They can see the video of the person at the door and actually push a button to unlock the door to allow them access,” Romzek said. “It’s relatively low cost, but provides a significant sense of security for staff, for students and for parents.”

The district also plans to expand its door reader card access systems — which are currently in use only at the three high schools — into the other 19 buildings: all of the elementary and middle schools, and ACE and RACE.

“We have a network software system that is used. It’s password-protected and allows various permissions for staff to enter the building during different days of the week, during certain times,” Romzek explained.

The district is considering offering the card keys, which would expire at the end of each school year, to parents who use latchkey programs, as well. In the event of a lost or stolen card, officials could immediately turn off door access through the use of a computer system, and parents would forfeit their deposit.

“Our thought is to provide cards to parents, as well to allow access to certain buildings at specific times. That allows us to keep the buildings secure all day and certainly enhances the security,” Romzek added.

Officials also plan to install an emergency code in the card-reader system that would lock all the doors in case of a lockdown and prevent anyone who has card access from being able to swipe their way into a building.

While board members applauded the Critical Incident Team’s recommendations, many felt the video intercom door access system should also be installed at the three high schools — which currently have their own security guards at the entrances.

In response, Romzek explained that the Critical Incident Team really focused its efforts on the elementary and middle schools, which do not have specific security staff in place.

“The consensus from the group was the security guards and the strong presence of the community liaison officers that we have at the high schools was sufficient enough, so we really focused our energies and efforts on the elementary and middle schools. … If we decided to expand, I bet we could find $1,500 to expand that to each of the three high schools quite easily,” he added.

Romzek noted that this initial security expansion is the beginning of what will probably lead to “a significant amount of investment” in security, district wide.

“It’s something that we have to look at carefully,” he said.

RCS Interim Superintendent Tresa Zumsteg echoed Romzek’s comments, noting that the Critical Incident Team simply looked at how the district could quickly beef up security in the short term, in a way that was “reasonably affordable.”

“I think this board is going to have to look at a longer-term study. … We’ve always said, with this Critical Incident Team, that we were looking at some shorter solutions that we felt we could get some agreement on. … This is not done by any means. This is just what we need to do right now,” she said.

Board President Beth Talbert said there was a strong, collective sense on the board that these measures needed to be implemented.

“There was a very collective sense that doing nothing was no longer an option, and that this would be a good start at making people feel much better,” she said. “(We’ll) let it work for the rest of this year and come back and see where we are.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.