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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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School security takes center stage

Parents, officials explore ideas for keeping students safe

Spokane Public Schools Resource Officer Satanya Haws watches over students Friday as they walk home from Shaw Middle School. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Spokane Public Schools Resource Officer Satanya Haws watches over students Friday as they walk home from Shaw Middle School. (Tyler Tjomsland) Buy this photo

With classes back in session, districts throughout the region are thinking about how to make schools safer.

At a gathering last week in an East Valley elementary school, parents had suggestions including arming principals with guns and instructing students not to open exterior doors for anybody.

Coeur d’Alene School District officials will propose that the school board increase an upcoming levy request to voters to make security upgrades including metal detectors at every school entrance and the addition of three school resource officers.

Safety and security are at the forefront of parents’ and school administrators’ minds since a gunman killed 20 students and six adults in an elementary school last month in Connecticut.

“That day pretty much shook American schools to their core,” said East Farms Elementary School Principal Tammy Fuller, who led a community meeting at her school Thursday.

Districts throughout the region are using varying approaches to address safety.

East Valley School District has scheduled community meetings to learn about parents’ concerns.

“We have been analyzing what we do and what we should do … always thinking about what if,” Fuller said.

As East Valley goes to the voters for a bond in February, parents at the meeting suggested using some of the money for security upgrades such as walling off school entrances so that visitors must go through the office, key card entries for staff and students, and surveillance cameras.

There were also less costly suggestions such as using volunteers to patrol school grounds, creating single entry points for students and ramping up safety drills.

States typically don’t provide funds to school districts for safety and security operations.

The Coeur d’Alene district also evaluated its safety and security program and identified many potential upgrades. At tonight’s board meeting, district officials will ask the board to consider boosting the upcoming levy to pay for them.

An email to parents outlined what the money would be used for, including key-card-controlled access to buildings, perimeter fencing, metal detectors at the entries of every school, strategically placed bulletproof glass, video surveillance, an update to the emergency alert system and additional school resource officers.

“A thoughtful approach to school safety is paramount to long-term success,” Superintendent Hazel Bauman said in that email. “As a mother and now grandmother, safety of children is among the most sacred of responsibilities I hold as your superintendent.”

Mead School District is conducting building audits to make sure entry points are limited and is working with a Spokane County Sheriff’s Office deputy for suggestions, said Jared Hoadley, executive director of student services.

The district could form a community task force to evaluate those audits and determine how to move forward.

Spokane Public Schools and Central Valley School District are studying safety procedures and policies and contemplating what changes need to be made.

Shelley Redinger, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, said principals are tightening their safety procedures and the district is reviewing every school’s security checklist. The district already collaborates with Spokane police and fire departments, she said.

“One of the most important ways we can keep our buildings safe is by being vigilant about who is in them,” Redinger said.

Jason Conley, the district’s director of safety, security and transportation, said he’s not looking for changes that will cost millions of dollars, but rather “using what we have to our fullest.”

One consideration on the list is arming the district’s 12 school resource officers, who are commissioned police officers, Conley said.

Melanie Rose, Central Valley School District spokeswoman, said district administrators have asked principals to assess safety and security in their schools, including the building, procedures and training needs.

Rose said the district will come up with a coordinated plan.

She added that security is “complicated in some buildings,” especially older schools, because they “were not designed with safety in mind.”

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