Friday, September 5, 2014

The Cautionary Instruction: New school year brings new security measures

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 5, 2014
As the new school year begins many school districts are heightening security.
Security measures continue to evolve 20 months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 students and six staff members dead following a rampage by a 20-year-old gunman.
The massacre at Sandy Hook brought about new procedures, cutting-edge equipment and security personnel.
This school year extends many of those efforts, some partly funded by state or federal grants. Experts point out that schools are one of the safest places for children and say security upgrades should be driven by factual assessments, not fear.
At Franklin Regional High School a student stabbed 21 students last spring. The western Pennsylvania school district received a Safe Schools Initiative Competitive Targeted Grant to improve security. The grant money will be used to upgrade building locks, improve communications throughout the school, improve response plans and train district staff members.
In Connecticut, police will be making more frequent visits to school buildings and doing periodic checks of buildings throughout the year, making sure students are aware of their presence.
"I've heard new alarms, new security with the doors, new cameras in the hallways which is reassuring," said Cindy Ramadanov, the parent of a school aged child.
The school also installed a box in the main office where students or anyone else can anonymously drop a note to report any situation.
"It makes me feel better. We weren't really aware last year, but we know the kids are safe," Ramadanov added.
Some school districts are only beginning to implement security measures that have become routine in other parts of the country. In Georgia, once the school day begins in some districts, the doors to the schools will be locked and visitors will need to press a button on a control panel to get in.
The control panel includes a video camera that allows staff inside the school to see who is at the door. Upon entering the school, visitors will follow the normal visitor procedures, signing in and showing identification to receive a visitor’s badge.
When visitors are ready to leave, they must exit the building through the main entrance and officially check out.
In Minnesota, some school districts installed "school safe activation buttons", commonly called panic buttons. The buttons can lock school entrances and trigger a school lockdown. Staff say the measures save precious time.
Other new security measures include flashing lights in hallways and outside of buildings that can alert students and staff to a lockdown. Students will soon undergo drills to better understand the new system, which is designed to create barriers in the threat of an intruder, allowing law enforcement more time to respond.
In the 21st century, unfortunately, returning to schools is about more than new books, old friends and the optimism of a new year.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.

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