School board to decide on security enhancement bond April 3

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Ann Fitzmaurice

In 2014 Columbia Public Schools (CPS) implemented a buzz-in system to increase safety in the district’s schools. In April, the district will ask school board members to approve a $750,000 bond of security enhancements in order to keep students safe, said CPS Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark.
On March 12 CPS’s safety and security department gave their annual safety and security update presentation.
If approved by voters, the money will pay for a number of security updates, including security film, increased police and School Resource Officers (SROs) at large school events and the introduction of proximity cards for all employees.
Baumstark said the current buzz-in system for students and visitors is a “best practice” for the well-being of students. The district continuously evaluates safety and security at schools to make enhancements and improvements.
“The only positive thing that comes out of tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland is that we learn more about how to keep our schools safe,” Baumstark said. “For example, we are also in the process of installing protective glass window sheeting. This is a direct result of what we learned about how the intruder gained access to Sandy Hook.”
The improved security measures will include proximity cards for employees only. In 2014, there was discussion among CPS about student ID access cards, but the thought was short-lived because of logistics. Proximity cards are like keys to the school, and CPS does not want to issue these access cards to students. Additionally, having thousands of student proximity cards for RBHS alone is too widespread for the district and school office to monitor effectively, and it would be difficult to reissue them each year when students graduate or replace lost or broken cards, Baumstark said.
The current system that allows juniors and seniors to travel off campus during their lunch and Authorized Unassigned Time (AUT) uses a camera and speaker system to connect outsiders to the office. When students return to campus during school hours, they must buzz-in before entering the school. Students are forbidden to open side doors to outsiders, even if they recognize the person.
Secretaries in the main office control the buzz-in system through security cameras and intercom buttons posted next to select external doors. When a student or visitor approaches the door, he or she should press the intercom button then speak his or her name and purpose for coming to the school. Often, however, students such as sophomore Kanchan Hans are able to enter RBHS simply by saying, “I’m a student.”
Hans said she hasn’t run into extreme difficulty with the system, but knows there have been several times in which buzzing in didn’t quite do the job.
“There have been a handful of times where no one has answered [the intercom] so I just get a student to let me in even if they don’t know who I am,” Hans said. “Other times I just don’t bother pressing the buzzer at all because I know it always takes a while for someone to answer, so I get another student to let me in.”

Despite some flaws Hans recognizes, she said the district is right to not give out the cards. Hans said the student access cards are a good idea in theory, but in practice there would be a lot of downsides because of the times at RBHS when doors are unlocked.
“[The proximity card would not be helpful] in the mornings, during lunch and at the end of the day [because] anyone [can] enter and exit the building,” Hans said. “Also a lot of times students will let people inside just to be helpful.”
Though the proximity cards will only go to teachers if approved, security measures for students will also increase through updated technology. In order to monitor the influx of students better, the district’s safety and security department pitched the idea of securing the entryways at schools by providing all new construction projects with a safety design as well as security film on exterior doors. The current buzz-in system, however, will remain at all schools in the district.
Despite the exterior doors being locked and the buzz-in system in place, a student entered RBHS with a sword under his jacket Jan. 29. Even though no legitimate threat was made, the sword was still in possession and goes directly against the district’s strict ‘no weapon’ policy. While junior Riley Jones knows little of what occurred, she has her own assumptions on what the student was thinking.
“I feel like [the sword] was more of an isolated incident rather than something that’s representative of our school culture,” Jones said. “We’re a pretty safe and laid-back group of people, and I don’t really think that the sword was originally brought to school with malicious intentions.”
In addition to the updates, Dr. Peter Stiepleman, the superintendent for CPS, urged parents to talk to their children to “impress upon them the seriousness of threats in today’s society” in an email he sent out to parents Feb. 23. He said, regardless of intentions, viable threats will be taken seriously and threats will not be tolerated. Statements and rumors of terroristic threats are subject to punishment according to the Board of Education policy, which includes, but is not limited to, expulsion from the district, Stiepleman said.
With RBHS’s open-campus policy, however, anyone has easy accessibility to the school, and Hans believes RBHS’s current buzz-in system is ineffective to protect against intruders.
“There’s a lot of ways for people to get in and out of the building without using the buzz-in system,” Hans said. “Even if they do use the buzz-in system it isn’t like the office will know if they have a weapon or the intent to harm or anything like that.”
While Jones believes the security system is flawed, she doesn’t want to sacrifice the open campus policy.
“I think the open campus policy is a really integral part of our school’s culture,” Jones said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t mind jumping through a few more hoops at the door if I knew they were going to be effective, but I don’t see how there would be a way to measure that.”
With the instability brought to many schools about an intruder’s ability to get inside and the recent shooting in Parkland, Fla., CPS will implement security enhancements. For example, the Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) drill system began after the Columbine shooting, Baumstark said. Throughout the addition of new security measures like the protective glass, CPS is always looking to evaluate and enhance current protection at the school. The district also looks to keep school security updated and safe to align with best practices and improved methods, Baumstark said. Included in this are new cameras and lighting in the necessary areas. With all these security measures, however, the question for Jones is whether or not the main doors themselves are safe.
“It’s really convenient that I can usually just walk in [RBHS], and I wish we didn’t have to inconvenience 99 percent of well-intentioned people for the one percent that would lie,” Jones said. “On the other hand, I really believe in taking steps to reduce the amount of violence we’re seeing in schools, and even though I think a larger part of that will definitely need to come from gun control I also think there are things we could be doing at RBHS. I think asking for names or student numbers at the door might be a good option.”