January 16, 2013

Maine schools take action to tighten building security

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Schools in Cumberland and North Yarmouth will begin issuing electronic identification badges to staffers in February, administrators said Tuesday at a school safety meeting.

The badges will be required to open exterior doors at schools in SAD 51 during the school day, and will accompany a system of buzzers and cameras, said Superintendent Bob Hasson.

The district is one of several around the state that have re-examined safety procedures since the massacre of 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last month.

"As horrible as the Newtown situation was ... the goodness that came out of it, in the 98,000 schools across the country, (is that we) are looking at our plans," said Hasson.

The swipe card system addresses the structural problems of a district with facilities that were mostly built before architects realized schools could be venues for violence. The special locks and cards at SAD 51 are estimated to cost $50,000, and will be ready for use when students return from vacation on Feb. 25, Hasson said. Money for the upgrades will come from savings.

Currently in the district, only one school – Greely Middle School – employs the type of locked double doors that the state recommends for a main entrance. Other schools keep exterior passages locked, too, which has created minor inconveniences that staff said are a small price for consistent security.

"Since Columbine, things have changed for us in public schools," said Hasson, referring to the April 1999 school shooting in Colorado that left 12 students dead.

The audience of more than 70 broke into groups to discuss safety at each school. Most people in the audience were parents of students at the Mabel I. Wilson School.

At Greely High School, Principal Dan McKeone said incremental changes help his staff and pupils be prepared, and that a stricter regimen of locking exterior doors -- which the superintendent recommended for all schools -- will help control who enters.

Other districts have taken steps to increase safety, as well. In Yarmouth, a previously scheduled re-evaluation of the district's safety plan led to the recommendation of significant changes, including a system of electronic keys, tweaks to phone systems, and the addition of locking door knobs to elementary classroom doors.

In Freeport, a renovation design of the high school includes plans to relocate administrative offices closer to the front door and to include a similar practice of keeping an inner door locked until visitors are identified.

Kim Brandt, principal of Greely Middle School, said consistent enforcement of the protocols for visitors is key to making the rules effective. Sometimes parents will knock on the glass and ask for staffers to open locked doors, only to be redirected to the main entrance.

"That's the whole point of it," Brandt said. "Don't make exceptions."

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: mbyrne@pressherald.com


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