LONGMONT — Prompted by the Newtown, Conn., tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the St. Vrain Valley School District created a safety initiative to research ways to help keep students safe.
But before Superintendent Don Haddad could give his first update less than a month later, the threat of school violence already appeared at a high school in St. Vrain.
The school board was originally scheduled to hear from Haddad Jan. 9, but that week a series of threats were discovered at Niwot High School, including a possible “hit list” of students.
Those threats led to the arrest of a Niwot student, and the rescheduled safety update was moved to the Jan. 23 meeting of the school board.
Stacy Davis, security and emergency manager for the district, told the school board that the goal was to seek out the best practices for district policies.
“One of the things in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the school district decided to reassess the things we were doing were in-line with common practices in the state,” Davis said. “We’ve been doing this over the last couple of years diligently, but we wanted to make sure that we were aligning with what other districts are doing.”
Davis said the process led the district to break up the security and emergency efforts into two categories: structural and operational.
“And in reviewing that, the structural initiatives that we imposed were based on your physical security features,” Davis said. “And those physical security features, some of the most recent changes to the district were on a system called the ‘A’ phone. That’s the buzz-in system you’re seeing at all the schools.”
Over the 2012 winter break, district staff went into each elementary, middle and high school to install the buzz-in system.
“The system is such that when you come to the school, all perimeter doors are shut and locked, and you have to buzz in, and the system’s located right next to the main entrance,” Davis said. “When you buzz in, there’s a camera mounted right above the buzzer, and there’s a monitor in the main office.”
Davis said the school staff would then screen visitors to make sure they are “appropriate” for the school.
“They’re making sure that it’s a legitimate visitor to the school, so they’re assessing the information that they’re getting from the visitor,” Davis said.
District employees with access cards can bypass the system, but identification for all visitors is required for the initial buzz-in at any St. Vrain school.
The changes can cause inconveniences for parents, Davis acknowledged, but so far, parents appreciate the added security, and Davis said the safety outweighs the hassle.
“The feedback that we’ve been getting from parents is that they’re very happy with this new system,” Davis said. “And they like the idea that at all of our schools the doors are now secured throughout the day.”
Davis said the district wants more feedback from the parents going forward.
“We recognize that even though we’ve implemented a baseline strategy for safety, we’re not there yet,” Davis said. “The way we move through that process is through testing, assessing and modifying the plan.”
School board vice president Bob Smith asked Davis for statistics or reports that suggest violence at schools generally comes from outside the schools.
“Is Columbine more the rule than Sandy Hook?” Smith asked. “Or is there maybe no rhyme or reason to some of this violence?”
Davis replied that in the recent studies she’s read, a pattern hasn’t emerged.
“Just as we think we’re getting ahead of it, just as we think we’re creating a stronger system, something different happens,” Davis said. “And it challenges us as safety managers on how we’re going to address the next level, which is what happened with Sandy Hook.”
Davis said the shooting at Sandy Hook was the first time a shooter had taken aggression toward accessing the school: shooting his way through the main entrance.
“We have been seeing more instances where it’s people out in the community,” Davis said pointing to the shooting at Deer Creek Middle School where the shooter was not affiliated with the students or staff at the school.
The St. Vrain Valley School District will hold three community safety meetings this month to present the safety initiative to the public and solicit feedback.
In the Tri-Towns, the district will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 in the commons at Coal Ridge Middle School.