February 2, 2013

SAD 54 plans to tighten security at all eight schools

Locked doors, security cameras, a buzzer system and ID badges all part of Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Canaan school buildings security plan; other area school units also considering new procedures

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- School Administrative District 54 is set to enact widespread changes in safety measures at the district's eight schools, including locked doors and a buzzer system with cameras at main entrances.

Photographs of staff members in each school were completed last week for picture identity badges, Superintendent Brent Colbry said. Each staff member will be required to wear an identification badge. Visitors and parents will have to sign in at the office and obtain a visitor's pass, he said.

"You can no longer just walk in with your child and walk down to the classroom and drop the kid off," Colbry said. "You've got to stop first and then go from there."

Colbry said he and district administrators created a 12-point plan for safety and security procedures to be taken up for final approval soon by the school board.

"We said, let's talk about school safety. What are we doing, what are we not doing in relation to recommendations from the state and from the feds?" he said.

The panel recommends that all exterior doors be locked at all times, with a buzzer and camera system at each main entrance, once the school board approves the funding, Colbry said. Custodians and teachers would check doors in the morning and throughout the day.

"It's everybody's job," Colbry said.

Classroom doors in every building would be in the locked position, so if someone shuts the door, it locks. Doors could be opened only from the inside, and only staff members would have keys. The district has six schools in Skowhegan, including the Marti Stevens Learning Center; one in Norridgewock; and one in Canaan.

Colbry said the schools all would have lockdown procedures in place, but those plans would not be announced to the public.

"Basically, it's hiding kids -- securing them out of sight of the shooters," he said.

There would be a minimum of three lockdown drills a year and each school principal would have to complete a drill report to the superintendent.

Colbry said installation of a buzzer-and-camera system for each school entrance would cost about $4,000 per school. The systems would be ordered as early as this week, following board approval.

Other school districts are undergoing the same changes in security in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.

In Fairfield-based SAD 49, with schools also in Albion, Benton and Clinton, school officials in January said the district is considering additional security measures, including more security cameras and panic buttons.

As in Skowhegan, recommendations for safety include increasing the number of security cameras in the district; locking down certain perimeter doors; adding panic buttons that trigger alarms; and focusing on staff training procedures.

In Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, which also has schools in Belgrade, China, Rome and Sidney, Superintendent Gary Smith recently said the district is considering tighter security controls, including security cameras, student IDs and buzzer-access entrances.

In Waterville schools, visitors must check in and out and wear name tags, according to administrators.

Waterville schools also conduct lockdown and evacuation drills, as was done in January at Forest Hills Consolidated School with agents of the U.S. Border Patrol, the Maine Warden Service and Maine State Police.

Colbry said he and other school administrators met with county and local police Jan. 21 to review the district's safety plan.

"They were very supportive of this approach," he said. "They encouraged us to consider locking the front doors, having that single point of entry with a buzzer system. I think that's what the board will do."

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367


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