Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Metro Detroit schools step up security

Maureen Feighan / The Detroit News
Locked doors. Surveillance cameras. Keyless entry systems. Two-way radios.
Sound like the county jail? Try many local school districts.
More than 10 years after the Columbine High School shootings outside Denver permanently shattered the sense of security at schools across the country, districts across Metro Detroit continue to take steps to bolster security on their campuses.
Oxford Community Schools plans to spend $1 million reconfiguring the front entrances of its seven schools so visitors are directly routed to the front office. Chippewa Valley Schools wants to install surveillance cameras at its middle and elementary schools if voters approve a bond proposal next month.
And the Berkley School District plans to rework the front entrances of its high school and elementary schools, many of which are more than 60 years old, relocating them closer to parking areas to boost security if voters approve a $168 million bond next month. District leaders say it's not that their schools or communities are unsafe, but they need to do everything they can to keep students as secure as possible.
"Security is here to stay," said Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Mark Deldin. "We have an obligation to our community to make sure we don't drop the ball on having a lax security plan. We live in a different world today."
But at least one national school safety expert said it's not enough to put surveillance cameras in schools and reconfigure entranceways. Staff training is critical and school policies on paper don't always match up to what's happening in reality, he said.
"The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained staff and student body," said Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based school security consultant who's worked in school safety for more than 25 years and performs assessments across the country.
New measures added
School-associated violent deaths among children 5-18 years old continue to be rare events across the country, according to a joint report by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Forty-three school-associated violent deaths occurred during the 2007-2008 school year, the most recent year that data was available, down from 57 in 1992-1993, according to the report. School-associated violent deaths include homicides, suicides or any unintentional firearm-related deaths.
The study, released in December, also found that far more children are killed away from school property than on it. Nearly 1,750 students, ages 5 to 18, were killed in homicides during the 2006-2007 school year -- all but 30 of those occurred away from school.
Still, districts in Michigan have taken steps to make their schools more secure, said William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. Schools have crisis intervention plans and districts often work closely with local police departments, he added.
"There is a great effort to make sure each and every student in the state of Michigan goes to school in a safe environment," he said.
Detroit Public Schools has some of the most extreme safety measures in place. Metal detectors and security guards are standard at district high schools. The district used to search students' clothing, backpacks and cars, but agreed to stop unless they had reasonable suspicion under a 2006 court order. The American Civil Liberties Union is now suing the district, alleging it violated that order at Mumford High School.
District officials, who couldn't be reached Thursday, have said they did increase security at Mumford because of ongoing problems there but denied they've conducted unconstitutional mass searches.
Entrances revised
And while metal detectors are less common in suburban districts, many are modifying school entrances to create "secured entryways." Parents and visitors can enter a front set of doors to get in the school's vestibule. There, they'll find a door to the front office because the doors to the actual school are locked.
Oxford decided to reconfigure its building entrances after former Fire Chief Jack LeRoy contacted the district two years ago to talk about security and a committee was formed with school administrators, police, fire and local leaders.
"As part of that, they did a walk through of all of our buildings, and we discovered our buildings were very vulnerable," said Jim Skilling, the Oxford Schools superintendent.
"In some cases, we don't even have visibility from the main office. Someone could come into our parking lot and we wouldn't know it ... We decided we needed to do something so someone would have to physically go into the office before entering the building."
Chippewa Valley Schools also has reworked its school entrances to guide visitors directly to the office, one of several new security measures over the last six years. The district also has completed the first phase of a swipe card access system at some of its schools.
And if voters approve an $89 million bond proposal next month, surveillance cameras -- roughly 600 are already in place at the district's two high schools and ninth-grade centers -- would also be installed at its four middle and 12 elementary schools.
Jerry Davisson, principal of Chippewa Valley High School, said he can't say enough about the surveillance cameras, which have been inside and outside the building since last March. He said they've cut down on bullying, vandalism, fighting, even theft.
"There's no way they're going to get away with stuff," Davisson said. "It's a deterrent more than anything."
Renee Jaczkowski of Clinton Township, the mother of fourth- and fifth-graders at Erie Elementary School, likes the new swipe card system there. And reconfiguring the school's entrance "was one of the best things that has happened to our school," she said, noting that the school is a polling place on election day and anyone could come in to vote.
"I do think you can never have too much security," said Jaczkowski, co-president of Erie's parent-teacher organization. "Is it absolutely necessary? I would hope that it wouldn't be. But in today's world, we want our kids to be safe."
Critics question extent
Still, is there such a thing as too much security? At least one school board member in Clinton Township thinks some measures go overboard, such as metal detectors.
"Obviously you want your kid to feel safe going to school," said Jason Davidson, president of the Clintondale School Board.
"(But) when you're talking about putting in metal detectors in (suburban districts), nobody wants to feel like they're going into a prison. Unfortunately things can happen anywhere. But at what point do you stop?"
mfeighan@detnews.com (586) 468-0520 From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100129/SCHOOLS/1290394/1026/local/Metro-Detroit-schools-step-up-security#ixzz0eONVoJeW