Schools to increase security
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 12:00 AM
New surveillance cameras and other security measures are being added in both the city and county school districts in the wake of last month's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
While they are currently reviewing their districts' crisis management plans, superintendents on Monday expressed an interest in a proposed $7.5 million state program to help schools hire trained and armed law enforcement officers to work on campus.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday that he would ask lawmakers to approve a program this session, which would allow individual schools to apply for $10,000 from the state to help fund an officer.
Neshoba County Superintendent of Education Tommy Dearing said his school district currently has two armed and certified deputies on campus during school hours.
"One is funded though the sheriff's office and the school has an officer also hired. Both are armed deputies who move around on campus," Dearing said, noting that he has considered adding a third deputy.
There are 3,300 students in the county district.
Philadelphia Public Schools has one unarmed security officer who patrols all three campuses, Superintendent Terry Larabee said.
"I hope the legislature comes through with the program to help fund armed law enforcement officers on campus," he said.
There are 1,132 students in the city school district.
In wake of the massacre in Connecticut, Larabee said a number of new security measures have been added in the city school district.
"We've asked all our teachers to lock their classroom doors," he said. "Our teachers are having to get used to doing that. You would think that it would be easy but there are a lot of other things going on. They may be coming off hall duty and see a discipline problem, etc."
All of the outside doors and gates on the city school campuses are also being locked with very few exceptions, Larabee said.
School officials plan to install magnetic locks and cameras on some of the doors and gates.
While teachers and other personnel would punch a keypad to gain entry inside, visitors would push a button to speak with office personnel over an intercom.
"We're talking to vendors now about magnetic locks at the main gate at the elementary school, two doors at the middle school and two doors at the high school," Larabee said. "All other parameter doors will be locked."
In addition, an official from the state Department of Education will perform a security audit on the city district's campuses soon, he said.
Larabee met with principals last week to discuss security measures including the importance of identification badges.
In addition to school personnel, all visitors to the city schools are required to wear a badge.
"If I walk onto the campus and I don't have my name badge on, somebody needs to take me to the office," Larabee said. "If it's a custodian, a cafeteria worker, me or a total stranger, they need a badge."
Additional security cameras are also being installed in both the city and county school districts.
However, both Larabee and Dearing agreed that it was impossible to secure every inch of every campus, every second of the day.
"But no matter where they come on our campus I want them on video where they can be monitored in the office," Larabee said. "We have additional cameras going up on our playground."
Ten additional security cameras are going to be installed in the county school district, Dearing said.
"We have over 20 cameras now in operation that can be viewed in the principals' offices," he said. "We are going to add 10 more security cameras."
The entire county school district's campus is fenced and gated.
"Once school is in session all the gates are locked," Dearing said, noting that motorists can only enter the campus from one gate, which is monitored by a deputy.
"We are in the process of reviewing our buildings and our grounds," Dearing said. "We will be meeting with our principals about what they think we need to do to improve safety. We are going to formulate a district plan this month to improve the safety of our students."
Reeves said Friday that the armed officer plan is a direct response to last month's slayings at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
He plans to ask lawmakers to approve it this session. Individual schools could apply for $10,000 from the state, and the schools would have to spend at least that much themselves.
Reeves said if the plan is popular, lawmakers could expand it later. The $7.5 million would cover 750 of the roughly 1,050 public school campuses.
The Associated Press contributed to this article