USD 457 confident in security measures

12/20/2012

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

While the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has certainly heightened awareness of school security in recent days, USD 457 officials say they're confident in the security procedures and policies they have in place.

Superintendent Rick Atha said Friday's incident in which a gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 children and 6 staff members, has increased teachers' and administrators' level of concern for the safety of students.

"It's just with the knowledge of the incident in Connecticut. With that said, it hasn't changed much, and this week has been pretty normal," he said.

Atha said the district is staying caught up on security measures and ensuring the safety of students.

"We're just all so frustrated when things like this happen," he said.

Atha was the principal of Raytown High School in Raytown, Mo., in 1999 during the Columbine High School shooting.

"I used that as a teachable moment for our teachers and our kids. I've just tried to do the same here," he said.

Atha has met with teachers and staff, and sent home a letter to parents about the Newtown incident. He said he's confident staff have done a fine job of reassuring students this week.

"Our teachers are very caring, loving people," he said.

Atha and school officials have said the district will remain vigilant on security. Those policies and procedures won't likely change, though, according to Roy Cessna, USD 457 public information officer.

"We revise our crisis plan every year. It's tested and revisited as one of our board goals. Due to the wake of what has happened nationally, and in discussion with our principals, we felt like we had a pretty solid plan at this time of what we're doing now," he said. Cessna said those drills are practiced in the buildings.

"We do practice lockdown drills in our buildings, the same way we practice natural disaster drills, precautions and evacuation procedures," he said.

Cessna said the district continues to work with the police department, sheriff's office and fire department on drills.

Garden City police Sgt. Michael Reagle said the department stays in contact with the district.

"We work closely with the school district. Our school resource officers are in constant contact with school officials, and commanders with the police department speak with school leaders on an ongoing basis," he said.

In order to enter USD 457 schools, visitors must be buzzed in by office secretaries who can see people enter the building.

"They are going to be a little more vigilant at the schools and ask a few more questions," Cessna said.

Cessna said it may inconvenience some parents and visitors, but it's for the safety of the students.

"Hopefully parents understand that. Ever since we've implemented controlled access, it's been a little bit of an inconvenience, but we feel it's one of our protocols to ensure safety," he said.

The controlled access to the buildings has been a feature since 2007, Cessna said.

Board members and district staff have pointed out the safety features designed in Garden City's new high school. Cessna said if other buildings are built in the district in the future, they may have the same features.

Academies at the high school lock down in a state of emergency. Security cameras all over campus are in operation.

"The biggest one is the one way in, and one way out entrance to the facility. That focuses the attention on who is coming and going," Cessna said.

Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue said he plans to have deputies visit Plymell and Jennie Barker elementary schools, Finney County's rural schools, and Holcomb schools on a more regular basis.

"We are going to have deputies start stopping in more," he said.

Bascue said the sheriff's office works closely with the school districts on safety.

"We work very closely with Garden City and Holcomb schools. We have a response plan in place. I can't go into what that is, but it's in place," he said.

Bascue said the response plan and safety precautions have not changed since Friday's school shooting in Connecticut, but have tightened up since Columbine and other previous incidents.

"If anything does need to change, we are in constant contact. We will be making more of a presence," he said.

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