Parents, administrators talk about new safety plans for our schools
TRI-CITIES, Wash. – The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has prompted new conversations in our community about how we secure our schools to ensure student and staff safety.
"The overall concern that one day we're going to get that phone call that no one wants to get," said Mike Garcia, a father of two.
As a new parent, Mike said he can't help but worry about his daughter's safety at Cottonwood Elementary in Kennewick.
"I worry about her while she's at school, all the way from when she gets off the bus," he said.
In today's current climate of school shootings, Mike said other parents share the same fears.
"They feel defenseless, they don't even know where to begin," he said.
During the past couple of weeks, concerned parents like Mike, have contacted the Kennewick School District via phone and email about what can be done to make schools safer.
In response, the Kennewick School Board took on this topic to find solutions, as many of them are parents themselves with similar concerns.
Recently, the Board has directed district administration to make modifications to the entryways of many of the older elementary schools in the district to make them more secure.
In some instances, this means installing a second set of locked doors, reconfiguring the office area for unobstructed line of sight, adding badge scanners to unsecured hallways, and installing additional screens to view the front door area.
The Board prioritized this work to begin with KSD elementary schools and to be completed, if possible, by the beginning of next school year.
"So that we can be proactive and prevent anything from happening here like has happened around the country," said Dave Bond, superintendent of Kennewick School District.
In addition to these improvements, Bond stresses the importance for students and the community to always report any possible threats to authorities.
"Given what's going on in our country, we want to know about these things so we can work together with our police departments to try and prevent anything serious from happening here," Bond said.
During the next couple of months, the Board will continue their discussions about school safety and looking more into the topics of physical building features, closed campuses for high school students, metal detectors, fire alarm response, wait periods, and arming staff with firearms.
Mike applauds the district's implementation of security systems in schools, however, he thinks the conversation needs to go even further.
"The events that just occurred in Florida, they had measures in place and still failed," Mike said. "It's becoming apparent that there is crazy out there, but what are we going to do to make sure that the most precious parts are protected."
Mike wants to encourage dads to volunteer for the Watch D.O.G.S program, and make the program district wide.
"Dad volunteer days, where you can volunteer once a month to walk the grounds," he said.
He also supports the idea of having more trained armed guards, administrators or police presence to act as further protection.
Many of parents have asked about the current safety practices in KSD schools and what has been done recently to make schools secure.
Below is a list of some of the safety improvements that were made in recent years:
- Installation of multiple cameras with multiple viewing angles at all schools with 30-day video storage.
- Keyless entry system controlled by badges, which can also be operated from computers and smartphones.
- Kennewick Police school resource officers and three security guards at each high school
- A security guard at each middle school.
- Badge access to schools by Kennewick Police in case of emergency.
- Increased lockdown capabilities.
- Classroom doors that can be locked from the inside.
- Panic buttons installed that can also be operated from computers and smartphones.
- Monthly school walk-throughs with Kennewick Police Department and Kennewick Fire Department.
- Monthly student and staff practice drills, including rotating evacuation, lockdown and tabletop scenarios. Drills are monitored by police and fire agencies and schools receive feedback.
- Buses equipped with multiple cameras.
- Anonymous Tips tool available at www.ksd.org enables students, parents, community members, and staff to let us know about safety concerns. (This tool will be expanded soon to include texting, phone and email tips.)
- Emergency Drill notebooks updated monthly to allow for auditing of all building drills.
- Building “Threat and Hazard Assessment” completed with the Kennewick Police Department for each school in the district.
- New schools designed with enhanced security systems (drop down gates, lockdown and evacuation buttons)
- An emphasis by staff to promote the idea of all students having a “Trusted Adult” at the school that they can share information with.
District officials say they’ve made a lot of progress, but admit that more work to be done.
"It is a challenging time, one thing we know we need more help with is in the mental health area,” Bond said. “We need some resources for kids who are struggling with these kinds of issues."
Bond went on to say that he’s hopeful that the legislature will look at some of the things that are going on and provides more counseling and mental health resources to the schools.
District leaders said they appreciate everyone who has reached out to them to express their concerns about school safety, and they will keep you posted on any further developments.
PASCO SCHOOL DISTRICT SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS
There was funding included in the Pasco bond proposal that was approved in November to update the entrances at all the older elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to make them safer and more secure.
Considering what happened in Florida last month, and the conversations that have started in our community because of it, PSD officials said the schedule for that work has been expedited.
Currently, architects are working on re-design plans for the entry ways of each of PSD’s older elementary schools, along with the middle schools and high schools.
The goal is to make each school’s entryway safer and more secure, and to require that all guests must be “buzzed in” by someone in the office before they can enter the school.
That design work will continue this spring, with the construction projects tentatively put out for bid in June.
After the bids are accepted, PSD officials said the construction work would tentatively begin in July or August. The work would be completed as quickly as possible.
The improvements at some schools may take a little longer than others, it would all depend on the extent of the renovations involved.
RICHLAND SCHOOL DISTRICT
School spokesperson for RSD Steve Aagaard said a major decision like this would have to be discussed thoroughly by the Executive Cabinet and then presented to the school board.
Richland School District’s two oldest elementary schools, Badger Mountain and Tapteal, are being replaced as part of the February 2017 bond issue.
RSD will incorporate the latest safety enhancements as they always do when constructing new schools.