Districts moving slowly on security

Schools studying their emergency plans, not making big changes yet
2013-03-03T00:00:00Z 2013-03-03T21:07:06Z Districts moving slowly on securityJamar Younger and Carli Brosseau Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Newtown, Conn., shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six adults has prompted a rush of emergency-plan reviews by Tucson-area schools.

But districts, beset by tight budgets and the cost of implementing Common Core standards, have made few changes, opting instead to evaluate visitor policies, review evacuation plans and solicit quotes for security technology.

Sunnyside Unified School District, for example, created a school safety committee to review campus perimeters, entrance designs and sign-in procedures, district Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo said. The district is installing surveillance cameras after putting in alarms two years ago, he said.

"We're going to wait to be very strategic and deliberate, and look at the recommendations from the committee," he said.

Tucson Unified School District - with more than 50,000 students - admitted to parents recently it hasn't been following its security plans. "We examined our procedures again and made a commitment to put protocols in place to be sure we're practicing all of these drills," TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said in a recent interview. "That hasn't really been done with any fidelity here, and it needs to be."

Vail School District already improved fence locks and funnels visitors through school front offices.

"I very strongly believe our best, most important thing we can do to prevent violence at school is to have really good relationships with kids, parents and staff," said Superintendent Calvin Baker.

The local reactions are in sharp contrast to those in the Phoenix area, where some districts have opened police substations in schools and rushed to buy equipment. At one Scottsdale school, parents hired an off-duty officer.

Cuts, changes in laws

As schools take slow steps to improve security, related government spending is slowing things even further.

For example, a change in federal law is forcing school security units to stop using the same radio frequency as law enforcement, raising concerns about emergency communications with police and between schools.

The change has forced districts to spend money on new equipment even as they evaluate pricey locks to secure classrooms from the inside, video monitoring systems and entry buzzers.

Francisco Morales, Sunnyside's prevention and safety director, said the district paid about $35,000 for radio equipment, plus $11,000 for repeaters to help boost the radio signal at a couple of schools. "We have to make sure our radios are compatible at every site," he said.

Also, state budget cuts are forcing many districts to do without once-common school resource officers. Gov. Jan Brewer put $3.6 million for resource officers in her proposed budget, but state and district officials say that's not enough.

Past cuts have forced districts to cut security staff and other positions that support safety - most notably unarmed school monitors who can spot things out of place. Sunnyside has considered cuts to security staff and police officers, although they're not school resource officers.

"I would support school resource officers, but we just can't afford it," said Isquierdo.

Amphitheater and Sahuarita are the only Tucson-area school districts that employ school resource officers, who teach and mentor besides monitoring and investigating. Providing resource officers is a matter of principle for Oro Valley Police Department Chief Daniel Sharp, who allocates about $700,000 a year to put them in every public and private school in town.

The officers have not been reassigned despite other cuts to the department, Lt. Kara Riley said. "The chief thinks our kids are our most underserved constituents."

Officers get a cellphone to receive anonymous text messages and use Facebook to keep up with the school's social life, she said.

Sunnyside and Flowing Wells hire off-duty officers. Amphi pays for an officer at Amphitheater High, but not at lower-grade schools. TUSD schools have no uniformed presence.

Sahuarita used grant money for a resource officer, then had to switch to using district funds, said Superintendent Manuel Valenzuela. The district budgets about $70,000 for the officer, who serves all district schools.

All-hazards prevention

Armed officers are just one way to improve school safety.

Some simple solutions can be just as effective, said Michael Dorn, director of the nonprofit Safe Havens International, which works with schools - including some Tucson ones in the past - to assess security. Among his ideas:

• Train janitors and other personnel to recognize an emergency and alert the rest of the school.

• Teach officials to spot bullies, someone hiding a weapon or someone trying to abduct a child.

• Mix up emergency drills to boost student and staff readiness.

Police agencies have been inundated with requests for training from charter, parochial and public schools. Tucson Police launched a new curriculum that teaches school staff to spot "signs and symptoms" of a potential shooter.

"It's an all-hazards preparation," said Capt. David Azuela, who coordinates TPD's training program. "Probably our biggest challenge is keeping up with requests to train them."

Changes noticed

Parents say they are noticing some changes.

Kate Spaulding praised teachers at Sunrise Drive Elementary School in the Catalina Foothills School District for how they guided students through emergency drills and lauded the district for keeping parents informed.

She said teachers gave her first-grader a scenario where a dangerous animal was on campus so the kids wouldn't be so frightened. "I don't want my child to be scared to go to school," she said.

Cheryl Perry, a mother of two students at TUSD's Whitmore Elementary School and a teacher at the district's Utterback Middle Magnet School of the Arts, wishes there were more trained security monitors. She worries parent volunteers are most watchful of their own kids, and are unprepared for an emergency response.

As a teacher at a school where she says there have been two recent lockdowns because of an armed person on or near campus, Perry is not opposed to having an armed presence on the campus, though perhaps not a teacher.

Her eighth graders have asked what she would do if there were a threat, and she described leading them into the locked science closet. "It's scary to think that there's no way to defend them," she said.

Some parents have reacted strongly to the idea of any armed presence at school.

Diana Wilson, mother of two kids at Khalsa Montessori School, said she is comfortable with the school's entrance buzzer and other efforts to restrict outside access, but she would withdraw her children if a security guard or police officer were hired.

Her opposition is both philosophical and practical: Adding security would mean cutting something else.

"If I have a choice between my child having a librarian or a school resource officer," she said, "I would choose a librarian."

A district-by-district look at security efforts, plans

The amount spent per student for security varies widely among Tucson-area school districts

Amphitheater School District

• Students: 14,370.

• Security personnel: 63 unarmed campus monitors and security officers. Contracted armed security guards patrol school facilities evenings, weekends and holidays.

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: At some locations

• School resource officers: The district hires off-duty Tucson Police Department officers for Amphitheater High. Oro Valley Police Department provides officers to all schools within town limits.

• Entry buzzers: At several schools.

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: No

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: Yes at high schools. Optional at middle schools. No at elementary schools.

• Other security measures/plans: Nearly 300 lock readers across the district require electronic key cards. Each costs about $1,000. About $666,500 in bond funding recently paid for 5-foot security fencing at 11 schools. Other schools have the fencing or soon will. Oro Valley Police spend about $700,000 on resource officers.

• Annual costs: about $750,000 for security officers and monitors

• Cost per student: about $51

Catalina Foothills School District

• Students: 5,000.

• Security personnel: Seven unarmed guards.

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: Yes

• Resource officers: No

• Entry buzzers: At two schools

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: No

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: No, but they are expected to carry them.

• Other security measures/plans: Possible upgrades include fencing campus perimeters and more restrictions on visitor access. The preliminary estimate of upgrade costs is $798,000.

• Annual costs: about $153,000 for security personnel.

• Cost per student: about $30.

Flowing Wells Unified School District

• Students: 5,600

• Security personnel: Five split between high schools and junior highs.

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: Yes

• School resource officers: No, but an off-duty police officer spends part of the day at the high schools and part at the junior high.

• Entry buzzers: No

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Security at the high school entrances. . Elementary, junior high visitors must pass through an office.

• Metal detectors: No

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear ID policy: No. They're required to have picture IDs, but not to wear them at all times.

• Other security measures/plans: The district recently remodeled one school that did not already require visitors to pass through an office on the way in. Evaluating camera buzzer systems for possible use in elementary schools, as well as retrofits that would allow classroom doors to be locked from the inside. Initial cost estimates are about $750,000. The district also hopes to add PA system retrofits including a panic button for instant lockdown notification and a reverse 911 system that would reach parents via text message or email.

• Annual costs: about $100,000 for security guards and off-duty police officers.

• Cost per student: about $18.

Marana Unified School District

• Students: 12,400

• Security personnel: No

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: Installing video cameras.

• Resource officers: No

• Entry buzzers: No

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: No

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: At secondary schools

• Other security measures/plans: Classroom doors must be locked. The district is applying for grants for school resource officers. $650,000 projected for video cameras at five schools. $40,000 for fences at one school.

• Annual costs: unavailable

Sahuarita Unified School District

• Students: 5,490

• Security personnel: At all schools.

• Closed-circuit TV/video monitoring: Yes

• Resource officers: Yes

• Entry buzzers: At Sahuarita High.

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: No

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: Yes

• Other security measures/plans: District works with Sahuarita police to review emergency procedures. Has procedures for locking classroom doors. $1 million for a video monitoring system. $1 million for iron fencing for the district's main campus and each school.

• Annual costs: about $342,000 for 19 campus monitors, $70,000 for one resource officer.

• Cost per student: about $75

Sunnyside Unified School District

• Students: 18,100

• Security personnel: Three off-duty police officers at each high school also assist with drop-off and pick-up times at other schools. At least 42 monitors spread among all schools. Two lead security monitors, a director of prevention and safety, and a crisis security team of two retired law enforcement officers.

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: Cameras are being installed at all schools.

• Resource officers: No

• Entry buzzers: No, although some schools have a buzzer to let people pass from reception areas to school hallways.

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: at high school graduations

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: Yes, at high schools.

• Other security measures/plans: All schools have alarms that call the district and Tucson Police. Central Alarm patrols at night. Bond approved by voters in 2011 included $1 million for security enhancements; of that, $800,000 was allocated for security cameras.

• Annual costs: $282,000 for off-duty officers.

• Cost per student: about $15

Tanque Verde Unified School District

• Students: 1,800

• Security personnel: District-employed campus monitor at junior high and one at the high school. Armed private security guards hired occasionally.

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: In some locations.

• School resource officers: No

• Entry buzzers: No

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: No

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: Secondary students are required to have IDs, but not to wear them at all times.

• Other security measures/plans: Recently added fencing and restricted entry at an elementary school and a junior high. Some funds saved from solar power project will pay for security improvements. Pima County deputies have done a tactical walk-through and begun a training program with staff.

• Annual costs: About $38,000 for campus monitors.

• Cost per student: about $21.

Tucson Unified School District

• Students: 50,826

• Monitors: Yes

• Security personnel: Nine uniformed and armed security officers

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: At one site. A contractor monitors cameras.

• Resource officers: No

• Entry buzzers: At certain district facilities.

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: One at the central office is used for Governing Board meetings.

• Evacuation plans: At every site

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students required to wear IDs: No, though many schools request it.

• Other security measures/plans: Administrators had emergency and evacuation planning training in January. Recent push to implement existing security measures such as locking exterior gates and doors. Plans to spend about $1.4 million in bond money on access control systems and $3.3 million on fencing upgrades.

• Annual costs: About $2 million, including $408,000 for uniformed security officers, $600,000 for crossing guards and $230,000 for school safety officers, who help with emergency drills, review plans and respond to calls.

• Cost per student: about $39.

Vail School District

• Students: 11,675

• Monitors: Yes

• Security personnel: about 35 unarmed monitors

• Closed-circuit TV or video monitoring: No

• Resource officers: No

• Entry buzzers: No

• Visitors must sign in, show ID: Yes

• Metal detectors: Yes

• Evacuation plans: Yes

• Drills for lockdowns: Yes

• Students have to wear IDs: No

• Other security measures/plans: None

• Annual costs: $750,000 a year for unarmed security monitors.

• Cost per student: about $64

"I very strongly believe our best, most important thing we can do to prevent violence at school is to have really good relationships with kids, parents and staff."

Calvin Baker

superintendent,

Vail School District

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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