Area schools take steps to improve safetyArea school districts have been installing new safety measures and enlisting expert security advice in the weeks since the Connecticut school shootings.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Area school districts have been installing new safety measures and enlisting expert security advice in the weeks since the Connecticut school shootings.
In January, said Parkston Superintendent Shayne McIntosh, the Parkston school board asked the public to contact the board with security concerns.
“We’ll be finding out who’s heard from whom on Monday night,” he said. “Personally, I haven’t heard from anyone.”
A poll of teachers, however, revealed that Parkston’s teaching staff wanted “things tightened down a little bit,” he said.
McIntosh said his district has also requested and received a security assessment from the state Office of Homeland Security and the Department of Public Safety in Pierre.
State Homeland Security Director James Carpenter said the assessment was performed by a team that included Region 6 Emergency Management Director Allan Miller, of Mitchell.
Parkston expects to receive the results of that assessment in the next few weeks, McIntosh said.
Carpenter said school assessments are often made by his department using teams of trained emergency management and law enforcement personnel.
Depending on the size of a structure, an assessment inspection can take two to eight hours to complete, he said, plus whatever time is required to process the inspection data and to issue an analysis report with recommendations.
Carpenter said the assessment services were advertised through the state Department of Education and the South Dakota School Superintendents Association.
While assessments are not limited to schools, school assessments have become a priority after Sandy Hook, Carpenter said.
Reports focus on a school’s security strengths as well as its vulnerabilities. Some schools had assessments completed prior to the Connecticut disasters, Carpenter said, but there has been a “large uptick” in assessment requests after the shootings.
“‘Significant’ would be a good word to describe it,” he said. “We’re trying to get caught up.”
Rural areas are a security concern for educators, said Sanborn Central Superintendent Linda Whitney. Whitney said the topic of security has been discussed informally within her district, but no policy changes have been made. The school had an opportunity to test lockdown procedures several weeks ago, she said, when it received word that a prisoner had escaped from the Huron jail. There were no problems at the school, but the incident caused staff to re-evaluate security. “We have a good relationship with the local sheriff, but response is an issue,” she said. “One thing we will change is that we will even be locking the front door.”
Whitney doesn’t see arming school personnel as a safe or viable intruder deterrent.
“You can’t legislate mental health,” she said. “It’s nearly impossible to predict aberrant behavior because perpetrators don’t think normally.”
McCook Central School District Superintendent Daniel Swartos said his office received a few queries on security from concerned parents in the weeks following the Newtown, Conn., shootings.
“We and the board decided pretty quickly after that to put a better system into our school,” Swartos said. “We’ve since had that installed and people seem to feel a little bit better about it.”
Visitors to the school are now funneled through one door and must be “buzzed” into the school.
“All the other doors are locked during the day,” Swartos said. “We already had a security system set up within the school, so it was just a matter of adding a buzzer, an intercom and a video camera.”
Swartos said the improvements cost only “a few thousand dollars” and parents are happy with the change. Inquiries were also made about getting a school resource officer, but nothing has materialized on that front. “Funding is tight for those sorts of things,” Swartos said.