K-12 Students Return to Heightened School Security
Updates include weapons detection systems, secured vestibules, vape detectors, digital mapping, climb-resistant fencing and more.
The 2023-2024 school year is underway for much of the country, and countless school districts took lessons learned from emergency incidents during the previous school year and implemented various safety and security upgrades.
Schools and communities that have directly experienced mass casualty incidents have taken both unique and more common approaches. The Covenant School in Nashville, which was the site of the March 27 shooting that claimed the lives of three students and three employees, welcomed students back Wednesday to its temporary location at the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ.
Covert Results, the security company charged with protecting Covenant students, equipped its officers with ballistics backpacks designed to enhance officer safety and emergency response, reports WSMV. The bulletproof backpacks contain tourniquets and other essential emergency supplies to help officers address various emergencies.
“In a situation where there could be an active threat, you would quickly put it [the bulletproof backpack] on the front,” said Robert Young, a retired detective for the Nashville Metropolitan Police and owner of Covert Results. “This allows you to access your weapon efficiently and respond swiftly toward the active threat. If you need to access anything in the bag, you can easily open it up. You got your medical kit and you can easily throw it to a victim.”
Young said officers, who will be present at the school each day, worked throughout the summer to ensure the school’s security measures were up-to-date and comprehensive. Officers will also provide protection to dozens of other private and charter schools throughout the state.
More than 100 volunteers with the group Stop Now also signed up to help keep students safe. The group was founded following the Uvalde shooting and is already in place at schools in seven states, according to WSMV. The safety program places teams of two or three people in neighborhoods surrounding the school to look out for possible threats.
“This seems like a good idea,” said Chris Bradshaw, who lives in the area. “Law enforcement is stretched thin, obviously.”
Volunteers were required to pass a background check and undergo threat intervention training. They were told to contact the police if they see something concerning. Young has been leading the school’s overall security efforts and urged volunteers to stay off the campus.
“We obviously would love any help,” he said. “But obviously I think the public understands that having 120 extra people that you didn’t intend to be at a small parking lot could present a logistical nightmare.”
In Highland Park, Ill., where a 2022 Fourth of July shooting claimed the lives of seven people, new security measures have been implemented at its schools, including a new weapons detection system at Highland Park High School. The system will be expanded to Deerfield High School, ABC7 reports.
“The board approved having a weapons detection system at both schools. We were starting at one school, one door. Tomorrow, we will learn a lot from it,” District 113 Superintendent Dr. Bruce Law said prior to Wednesday’s first day of school. “We’ll learn about how to get students through quickly. We’ll learn from students about how it makes them feel, and then, it will also be at Deerfield High School, also starting on a small scale, because we’re trying to learn from a school as well.”
District leaders approved a small-scale use of the system last week but changed plans following the shooting death of a Highland Park High student on Sunday.
“The intention was to have a small rollout once we had the opportunity to teach students what to expect, how to move through quickly. Also, to talk to staff about the best way to implement this,” said Law. “But because of the shooting on Sunday, we decided we’ve got to do this on the first day of school and learn as we go where it’s going to.”
Virginia Schools Make Significant Security Upgrades
School districts of varying sizes throughout Virginia made significant investments in campus security, according to WSLS. Bedford County Schools, made up of around 9,000 students, spent $550,000 on safety and security projects, including enhancements to school access, emergency management, and communications and video surveillance systems. It also established a safety advisory team made up of various community partners, including the Bedford County Police Department, Virginia State Police, and Bedford County Fire and Rescue. The team meets to review school security assessments, prioritize needs, and review new security requests.
During the 2022-2023 school year, Campbell County Public Schools, which has around 7,800 students, invested $195,000 in security upgrades, including $70,000 on a visitor management system, $71,000 on cameras, $30,000 on door hardware, $20,000 on messaging and fingerprinting software, and $3,000 on handheld metal detectors.
Rockbridge County Public Schools, made up of around 2,500 students, invested a whopping $700,000 for electronic door access to all schools, which required network wiring and server upgrades. It also spent $40,000 to upgrade the camera system at one of its elementary schools.
Nelson County Public Schools, which is home to made up of around 1,500 students, made upgrades that include additional cameras, two-way radios, vape detectors, burglar alarm upgrades, intercom upgrades, anti-ballistic window film, and security vestibules added to its high school, middle school, and one elementary school.
Craig County Public Schools, which has two buildings, including an elementary school and a joint middle school and high school, spent $1,400 on digital mapping as required by the state. The district contracted Critical Response Group to map out its schools to help administration and local officials improve emergency preparedness protocols and coordinate emergency response. The district has also requested that the Craig County Sheriff’s Office and emergency services hold a mass casualty incident drill for annual training.
What Other Changes Have Schools Made?
Some additional changes that have been made or are underway at K-12 schools across the country include:
- Washoe County (Nev.) School District issued its staff ID cards with a built-in emergency alert button
- Spring (Texas) Independent School District installed climb-resistant fencing that includes rolling bars at the top that are difficult to grip
- Owasso (Okla.) School District hired five new school security officers
- Los Angeles Unified School District implemented speed bumps to slow down traffic through the Safe Route to Schools program
- DeKalb County (Ga.) School District installed emergency buttons to alert school resources officers to the exact location of an incident, and hired more than 700 new educators
- Atlanta (Ga.) Public Schools hired 15 additional police dogs and installed body scanners at more of its middle schools and high schools
- Anchorage (Alaska) School District used part of a $37.8 million bond to install security vestibules; 39 have been installed so far
- Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District started a metal detection pilot program at four high school campuses
As always, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to school safety and security. Budgets and needs vary from district to district and even school to school. A robust, well-rounded plan that addresses security issues, as well as ways to improve campus culture and student well-being, is necessary to protect against threats and prepare for all types of emergencies.
No matter the circumstances, the best precaution any district has is its people, Palm Beach County School District Chief of Police Sarah Mooney told CBS 12.
“People talking to each other when they think that there’s a problem. It’s not just school police. It’s not just the staff,” she said. “It’s everybody that visits that campus, anybody that has anything to do with that campus and the people that are on it. It’s important for them to be involved in the process.”
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