Security in place at schools

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press Donna Trudell, a Title I teacher at Webster Elementary School in Escanaba, presses a button that allows her entrance into the elementary school Wednesday afternoon. The button entry is one of the security measures at Webster.

ESCANABA — Local school districts have security measures in place in case of a threat or emergency.

With the recent school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., schools across the country also are taking measures to ensure student and staff safety.

At Escanaba and Bark River-Harris schools, security has been a priority for may years.

According to Darren Bray, Bark River Harris-Schools (BRH) high school principal, the school has various forms of security measures and precautions to ensure staff and student safety. Most recently, the school added a singular entrance into the building that requires visitors to be “buzzed” in by the main office clerk. All other doors around the school are locked during school hours.

Once visitors are buzzed in, they enter a “vestibule,” explained Bray, or a room that holds another set of doors before they can fully make their way into the building. Visitors must check into the main office before heading into the school hallways.

Bark River-Harris School is also fully equipped with security cameras on the interior and exterior of the building, said Bray. A monitor is placed in the main office, where different views of the school including the outdoor parking lot and in school hallways are shown on the screen. Bray said this helps monitor aqnyone entering the building and ensures students are where they are supposed to be at all times.

Cameras are also placed in common areas such as the lunch room and gymnasium, added Bray.

For state-mandated drills, Bray said students and staff practice campus evacuation, “shelter in place” and full lock down. Shelter in place allows students and teachers to remain where they are, still conducting school business.

School Resource Officer Brian Helfert is the main point of contact for Bark River-Harris School when drills are practiced. Helfert works for the Delta County Sheriff’s Department.

From a first responder’s perspective, Helfert said BR-H has leaps and bounds in efforts to make students and staff as safe as possible in case of an emergency. In addition, the school district also makes responding easier with the help of simple measures, including numbering classroom windows and lettering doors to let officers know which area of the building they need to respond to. In case of an incident and more help is needed, first responders are given the letter of the door or number on the window to know where to go, said Helfert, to make response time that much faster.

During the summer months or professional development days when students are not at school, teachers and staff have gone through active shooter training to make sure they know what to do and how to respond if there was ever danger on campus, said Bray. All classrooms are equipped with a map that shows teachers where to evacuate and where the emergency exits are, noted Bray.

“I think that’s been very helpful,” said Bray.

In addition to on campus security, the school’s buses also have cameras to monitor behaviors and actions.

On top of security, the school also takes into consideration health emergency precautions, noted Helfert. The school has a number of AED (automated external defibrillator) and several teachers have been trained by an EMT. Classrooms also have “grab and go” bags that are equipped with first aid kits and a full class roster so teachers can make sure each student is accounted for.

“Overall, I think our kids feel safe,” said Bray, adding from all of the updated security cameras and extras Bark River has taken into account, he has received positive feedback from parents and others within the community.

At Escanaba schools, Superintendent Coby Fletcher said Escanaba prepares students for different types of threats including external and internal. Fletcher explained that with an external threat, the school is on full lock down. In that case, the potential danger is happening outside of the building, which could include hazardous weather or an active shooter. During an internal threat, a suspect is inside the facility.

In the event of an external emergency, Fletcher said students and staff stay where they are and don’t let anyone in or out of the building until an all clear has been given by first responders. For an internal threat, students and staff practice “hiding” themselves from view, including going into a closet in a classroom, or making sure they are not visible from someone who could be looking into classrooms, said Fletcher. Not letting anyone in or out is also a very important measure that both students and staff practice, he added.

Fletcher noted even though nothing as serious as the tragedy in Parkland has happened in Escanaba, it is important to always be prepare and take proactive measures to ensure student and facility safety.

“That’s why we practice these drills frequently,” said Fletcher.

Because these events can happen at anytime and at any point in the day, Fletcher said the practice drills are scheduled at random times throughout the school day, including lunch hour and in-between classes.

Prior to performing the drills, Fletcher said local first responders are notified and are made aware of the practice.

With the upcoming sinking fund millage proposal that will appear before Escanaba voters in May, Fletcher explained the top priority for the use of those funds is amping up security measures within the Escanaba School District. The average age of the school buildings in Escanaba is 57 years old, added Fletcher.

The one exception to this average is Webster Elementary, which was rebuilt in the late 1990s.

When the idea of a sinking fund millage arose, Fletcher said updating security was on the top of list, including updating security cameras throughout the district, and possibly adding a key fob entry system to the doors.

At Webster Elementary School, visitors have to be buzzed in before entering the school, as all of the doors are locked at all times. Windows are equipped with a special film that allows students and staff to see out, but outsiders are unable to see in.

Doors being locked at all times of the day are a common theme throughout all of the schools in Escanaba, noted Fletcher.

Another important aspect states and school districts should be looking at are more emotional and mental health services provided at school, said Fletcher.

“We need to be able to better provide emotional and mental health services with kids,” said Fletcher, adding most school districts seem to be underfunded in this and are unable to provide.

“We need to prepare as much as possible,” said Fletcher. made