School board reviews safety in Wenatchee
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
WENATCHEE — Last month’s school massacre in a small Connecticut town 2,800 miles from here has local school districts questioning if they’re doing enough to keep students and staff safe from deranged gunmen.
The Wenatchee School Board took a look at security Tuesday evening — with no pretense that a mass shooting couldn’t happen here.
“There’s no way I can guarantee you that an incident involving an active shooter or a person with a knife would never happen at a school. It would be insane to guarantee that,” Bob King, the district’s director of safety and security, said after briefing boardmembers on current district safety measures and planned improvements. “But we can do a lot to deter and respond.”
He didn’t get any push back from board members.
“We have to tighten down. The norms are changing,” said board member Kevin Gilbert.
King told board members that he and his staff would this year work on security improvements that include:
- Better controlling public access to schools. Currently, all the doors in district schools are locked, except main entrances. But the high school, alone, has 58 exterior doors. People still slip inside.
“There’s no way we can secure that building, and we don’t want it to be like a prison,” he said. “But there’s always more we can do.”
King said he hopes to begin installing “buzzer” systems at some schools that would require visitors to identify themselves before being allowed inside through the main entrance.
- Better student behavior assessment. King would like to assemble a district “school assessment team” that includes law enforcement, mental health professionals and school counselors who could work together to identify troubled students before they become violent.
“The common denominator among the kids that commit this violence is that too often they fall through the cracks,” he said.
He pointed to a “Safe Schools Alert” link on the district’s website that allows students and their parents to report bullying and potentially dangerous activity anonymously. The district has 14 days by law to act on each complaint.
But a quick, group survey of the many students present at Tuesday’s board meeting proved that only a few of them knew the link existed.
“Information sharing — we don’t do that well here,” King said, urging the students to tell others about it. “Word of mouth is going to save the district a lot of heartache.”
- Expanding staff training. King said he wants everyone, from bus drivers to custodians and kitchen staffers, to learn to become aware of and report behaviors that could signal a troubled student.
Superintendent Brian Flones said he’d seek feedback on security issues from around the district and report back before summer break.
A former police officer, King was hired by the district as a bus driver in 1998, but later headed the effort to launch a security program.
He said he received around 50 calls and emails from concerned parents, guardians and even some students following the Newtown, Conn., shootings, which claimed 26 victims, mostly first-graders.
Some told him they were afraid to send their kids to school, he said. Others wanted to know more about school security.
King told boardmembers that state officials consider the district’s security measures among the state’s best. He and his two uniformed school security officers carry stun guns and have on-the-job access, if needed, to firearms.
He has worked with local law-enforcement agencies to get officers familiar with school layouts and strategies and drills for responding to an “active shooter” on school property. This spring, he plans to include school staffers in the role-play drills to get them used to police officers’ reactions and responses to shooters in the classroom.
Staffers and students already participate in “lock down” drills designed to secure students quickly in case of emergency, he told boardmembers.
“People don’t understand. They think an active shooter is something new. This is not new and it’s not going away,” King said, citing statistics that more than 2,000 reports of violence in schools have been reported around the world. About 65 percent of the incidents happened in the U.S., he said.
A shooter in a school requires an immediate response, he said after his briefing to boardmembers. A massacre is over in the time it takes someone to call 9-1-1.
“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said, a little reluctantly considering the wide media coverage a National Rifle Association leader received when he said the same thing in response to Newtown. “It’s a sad thing, but it’s true. Our society is forcing us to do this.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173
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