After the events in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adult staff died after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, the issue of school safety has been discussed across the country.
This includes the schools on the island.
After the Newtown shooting, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, along with the state police, the warden service and the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, conducted a lockdown drill at the elementary and high schools to determine what measures, if any, could be taken to improve safety.
Out of that drill came several changes, said elementary school principal Mike Benjamin. One of the biggest challenges for the elementary school is the unlocked front door. “Anybody can walk in the front door and go right upstairs,” said Benjamin. “No one would even see them.”
To remedy this, a buzzer system is being installed at the front door. During the hours of 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the front door will be locked. Anyone wishing to come into the school will have to ring a buzzer. A video monitor will allow the front office staff to see who is at the door and buzz them in.
This will make keeping tabs on who is in the building easier, said Benjamin. Visitors to the school are also required to sign in and wear badges, as they were the second half of last school year.
Students will be encouraged not to open the front door if they see someone there, allowing the office staff to buzz in anyone who might be at the door. The buzzer system can also be turned off for special events, said Benjamin. All other doors in the building are always locked.
Other safety measures have also been implemented. Some of them are simple, such as adding emergency blinds, to a more ambitious project of adding safety locks on the doors.
Every classroom door in the school has the safety locks, which allow the doors to remain locked and open, though easily shut tight in an emergency. Before, if teachers wanted to lock the door, they would have to open the door wide into the classroom and use their keys on the lock.
Benjamin said Billings Diesel and Marine volunteered hours of time to drill the doors to allow for the safety locks.
The goal is to improve safety without scaring children, said Benjamin. “We want everyone to feel safe, but still be welcoming,” he said.
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