Schools take steps to increase school, student safety

by joe nathan 

Increased student safety is very much on the minds of the more than 40 Minnesota school leaders who responded to a recent survey. Many districts have made changes to their buildings and changes in procedures. Here’s what several area school leaders told me.

Asked what changes the district had made after the tragic school shooting last year at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, Barbara Olson, school and community relations director for Osseo Area Public Schools, wrote: “School safety is an ongoing process; we work on it continuously and have many effective practices and procedures in place. For example, our emergency plan is based on a national best practice model; we have keycard doors and controlled/monitored entrances at every building; we do regular drills and staff training; we work closely with police and fire; and our health and safety coordinator is a Certified Safety Professional.” Olson listed work that has been done during the past year in the areas of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Details are being posted on the district’s website.

Matt Schoen, Delano superintendent, explained: “The major change we made with our security at our schools is add and upgrade our electronic card key system. This system allows each school to lock exterior doors and release and lock interior doors by the push of a button. We will continue to in-service our staff regarding our emergency procedures in partnership with Wright County Sheriff’s Department.”

Mark Bezek, superintendent for Elk River Area Schools, wrote: “The incident at Sandy Hook Elementary caused everyone to look at elementary building security much like Columbine shook the high school security world years ago. I feel we reacted quickly by adding needed security to all of our buildings. By the end of last year every District 728 building (was) retro-fitted with voice and video equipment at all main entrances.

“Before the official start of the student day doors are ‘personally’ monitored. Once the school day begins, all buildings are locked down. The only access is the main entry, which is real-time monitored by office staff. A person wishing to gain entry must first buzz to alert office staff to their presence, once the office staff has facial recognition and the visitor verbally states their intent will they be granted access to our buildings,” Bezek wrote. “We have heard of no public repercussions from this system. I believe our stakeholders realize that our job is to provide a safe learning environment for our children and staff and they understand the measures we have to take given the environment we live in today.”

Mary Olson, director of communication and public relations for the Anoka-Hennepin District wrote: “In short, we are focusing on our elementary schools this year because we feel they have the greatest need. Our middle and high schools have had security cameras for some time and our high schools also have guards.

“At the elementary level we are modifying the main entrance to each building so that visitors cannot get into a building without first being checked. They will enter a locked vestibule area. After a school secretary ensures the visitor has a legitimate reason to be in the building (picking up a child, eating lunch with their children or grandchildren, volunteering, observing in class, etc.), he or she will ‘buzz’ the visitor in,” Olson wrote. “We have also installed scanners to read driver’s licenses and print name badges for visitors to wear. These also record who has entered and at what time. It’s a big improvement over the paper log.”

Vanessta Spark, director of Spectrum High School in Elk River, told me that the school “has continued to assess and expand all of the school security measures. This includes planning with local authorities, securing access into the school, efficient emergency notifications, student and staff awareness training and response to possible critical incidents.”

It’s clear these and other leaders take security seriously. That’s very good news for students, educators and families.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]