School security a top priority for districts
Keeping students safe in Jackson County’s three school districts remains a priority for the districts’ superintendents, particularly with a new school year just getting started and the effects of one of the deadliest school shootings in the nation’s history still reverberating with educators across the country.
Officials in all three of the school districts — Holton, Jackson Heights and Royal Valley — worked with law enforcement agencies this past summer on how to bolster security in school buildings, with those efforts led by Joe Romans, a deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office who, as Royal Valley Superintendent Aaric Davis noted, serves as a “school safety specialist” for all county schools.
Davis, Holton Superintendent Bob Davies and Jackson Heights Superintendent Jim Howard said their respective school districts are reviewing Romans’ recommendations to make improvements that could stave off an incident similar to the May 2 school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
“Our number one goal is increased safety,” Howard said. “But we also need to balance that with the climate and culture of our schools and the practicality of the cost.”
A total of 27 people have been killed in school shootings so far this year, 21 of whom were killed in the Uvalde shooting, according to a survey by Education Week magazine. Of the overall number, 24 of those killed were students, including 19 in the Uvalde shooting, the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., about a decade earlier.
At the end of August, a total of 28 school shootings with injuries or deaths had been reported in the United States, the most recent at that point being a shooting on Monday, Aug. 29 at an Oakland, Calif. school where a 13-year-old boy was shot and wounded and a 12-year old boy was arrested for the shooting.
School districts across the country have stepped up efforts to improve staff and student security on school campuses. One such measure taken by all three Jackson County districts involves placement of a “buzz-in” system involving security cameras, in which school staff identify those seeking entrance into a school building before unlocking entrance doors.
Following inspections of the county’s schools this past summer, Romans made recommendations for security improvements at the schools, with Howard noting that such improvements at Jackson Heights are likely to include more security for exterior doors, suggestions for additional security cameras and a review of existing safety procedures and drills.
The latter suggestion, Howard noted, is essential this year, as each of the district’s two buildings has a new principal this year — Daniel Pray at the elementary school and Derek Smith at the middle and high school.
“We have all new building administrators this year as well as many new staff members, so we want to include them and all of our ‘stakeholders’ in the conversations as we update our safety plans,” he said.
Davis said that one of the new building projects in the Royal Valley district involves relocating the office at Royal Valley Middle School in Mayetta to the school’s front entrance. At present, visitors to the school “buzz in,” but have to walk a distance to get to the office area.
“With the relocation, our secretarial staff is going to have their eyes on the front door at all times,” he said.
Other new building projects in the Royal Valley district, Davis said, will involve “some of the things that are more visible, but some other things that are not necessarily visible” to protect students and staff.
In the Holton district, Davies said that district staff will receive training on active shooter drills, then work with students on such drills “so that students can know what to do to respond to an active shooter incident.”
One option that schools across the country are considering involves the installation or placement of a “panic button” that allows staff members to communicate with each other and with law enforcement if an intruder should enter a school building with the intent of causing personal harm or property damage.
Davies said Kansas state officials recently offered a matching grant for school security improvements, although the grant funds did not allow for communications such as the “panic button” described above.
At Jackson Heights, Howard said school officials are considering putting something similar to the “panic button” in place.
“We are hoping to leverage our excellent technology infrastructure… to have ‘panic systems’ applications installed on all devices that will act as a global reminder without needing to hard-wire new devices in each classroom,” Howard said.
And at Royal Valley, Davis said a system is in place that allows office staff at each of the district’s schools to contact law enforcement in case of an unwanted intruder.
“There's all kinds of things we can keep doing,” Davis said. “There's grant money that's out there to improve your schools. We keep looking at those to try to come up with new ways, as well as existing things to try and make sure that we have a safe environment.”