“As a district we’ve done a lot to make our schools safe. We have work to do,” said Superintendent of Schools Tim James during the Board of Education’s Feb. 20 meeting.
In response to the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Omni Data, of Woodbridge, conducted a free audit of each of the five schools in the district, which covers Beacon Falls and Prospect.
The audit recommends expanding and reviewing the camera systems in the schools. The audit found in some instances the cameras at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls were either not in the proper location, not moveable to achieve the proper coverage or fixed cameras were trying to cover too large of an area. Similar issues were pointed out at Long River Middle School in Prospect.
The audit suggested a review of the camera positions at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls and Algonquin and Community schools in Prospect.
James, who is currently on a medical leave of absence, said last week upgrading the camera system is a high priority for the district.
Bruce Bartmess, the district’s director of technology, is currently reviewing the camera systems at the schools and putting together a proposal for upgrades and expansion for the coming budget year.
James said the district is looking at adding interior cameras to the schools, Woodland is the only the school that has them now, to monitor stairwells and exit doors. He added the district is also working on a wireless remote connection at Woodland for police to view live feeds so they can see what’s happening as they respond to an emergency. This was another recommendation in the audit.
Dave Langdon, the district’s facilities director, told the board the plan is to buy cameras for Algonquin and Community schools that can be taken to the new elementary school on New Haven Road after it’s built.
The audit also recommends establishing a secondary set of doors at the main entrances of Woodland and Long River so anyone entering the schools can be met at the second set of doors before being granted access to the schools. Woodland is looking to establish a control desk at the main entrance where a staff member would be responsible for monitoring cameras and signing in visitors, the audit states. There is no plan for a control desk at Long River, according to the audit.
James said he was unsure the advantage of double doors saying if someone is suspicious they shouldn’t be let in through the first set of doors. He added the district is working on a better system to screen visitors before they’re allowed into a school.
Another high priority for the district is creating a school resource officer position at Woodland. A school resource officer is a police officer who is stationed at the school.
James said he had great success with school resource officers in other districts.
“The purpose of the job is to be a resource for staff and students,” James said.
Aside from a police presence, James said the position would provide another trusted adult students could go to if they are having issues.
“The most important thing they do is they communicate real well with students,” James said.
A number of other initiatives are also proposed for next school year, including putting night-vision film on the cafeteria windows at Woodland that don’t allow people to look into the cafeteria, replacing the entrance door to the gymnasium at Laurel Ledge and adding an alarm to Woodland that would notify the office when a door is opened.
There are currently no concrete figures for how much the upgrades, including the school resource officer will cost. How the district will pay for them remains to be seen as well.
After talking with federal and state legislators from the district, James said there is talk about grant funding for security updates or possible reimbursements for money spent on security. However, nothing is set in stone yet.
“I don’t think we can wait for them to do their work,” James said of the state legislature.
The district could bond the improvements in a separate bond package. James said officials are also looking into rolling the costs into a bond that will be refinanced soon.
James said the district will be refinancing a bond on the Long River roof project to take advantage of better interest rates and officials are exploring the viability of paying for the upgrades in the same bond.
“I think the climate in our communities is such that people would support an initiative or initiatives around school safety,” James said.
While the audit and discussion last week focused on improvements to be made, the district has not been sitting idle the past couple months.
Lagdon highlighted a few of the improvements that have already been done. He said all exterior doors that were weak at Woodland have been replaced, a new front door was installed at Laurel Ledge this week and the camera at the front entrance of Long River was repositioned to give staff a better view of the entrance, he said.
“We’re pretty good with our buildings right now,” Lagdon said.