An independent security expert has recommended a series of changes to improve safety in District 24 starting at the main entrances of the three elementary schools.
Frank Shea, president of the Alpha Group, a private investigative agency, spoke to the Board of Education and the public on Feb. 27 on ways the district can improve security in the wake of the school shooting in Newton, Conn. three months ago. Shortly after the shooting, board members asked to have an outside consultant review the schools and make recommendations make the buildings safer.
Shea said he was concerned about the current system in place in District 24. When someone comes to the main entrance, the monitor lets them in and has the visitor sign in. Already, Shea explained, there is a problem. “You’ve just allowed a person into that school,” he said. “When that door is opened, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Instead, Shea recommended that a uniformed security guard be placed at the front desk of each school. When someone comes to the door, they would have to hit a buzzer. The security guard could then see the person’s face through a camera and talk to the visitor through an intercom, then decide whether or not to let the person in the building.
Next, Shea said, the visitor should have to give their ID to the security guard to be scanned in. A computer would keep a record of that person’s visit. Shea said that if someone isn’t allowed into the school, such as a parent with an order of protection against them, the computer would show that and the guard knows not to let them in.
The system should apply for everyone, Shea said, including deliverymen who often use back entrances. Teachers and staff members should all have to use the main entrance as well, he explained.
Shea said the only time another entrance should be used is when teachers are bringing their students in from an outside activity, or when a visitor is severely disabled and can’t use the front entrance.
The security guard should be able to view security footage from all cameras around a school’s property, Shea said. He said the current camera system is adequate but could be better.
He also said that at two schools — William L. Buck and Robert W. Carbonaro — there are hallway areas being used to house ESL classes. Shea said those instructional areas need to be relocated. “If the children had to get out of that school in a timely manner, they’re not going to do that,” he said. “That situation’s got to change. You’ve got to get the kids out of the hallway.”
Shea said that the cost of his recommendations would be about $15,000 per school for equipment. However, he said it would be a one-time cost. The biggest expense would be salaries for security guards, which he said should be state certified security officers. He said it is unlikely a retired police officer would take the job. “I don’t know too many cops that would sit at a front desk,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life.”
One recommendation that Shea said would be too costly would be to replace every classroom door. He said the doors are inadequate, especially because of the large windows that are easy to break. Over time, Shea said the district should replace the doors with solid wood or metal ones, with locks on the inside and small windows that are high off the floor.
Board of Education President Tony Iadevaio said the Board of Education is weighing the recommendations, as well as other proposals, and will discuss safety upgrades at future meetings. He said the board does plan to set aside money in the budget next year for security enhancements.
Shea said taking some simple steps to limit access at the school’s main entrance can go a long way in keeping unwanted visitors out. The biggest problem for schools aren’t “active shooters” like in Newtown, he said, but “homegrown” issues often relating to family conflicts.
“You know how concerned we are as a community over the safety and security of our children,” said Superintendent Dr. Edward Fale. “We take great precautions with our school buildings. We try to be as vigilant as we possibly can.”