School safety has big price tag

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., and in a post-Columbine and Sandy Hook world where school lockdown drills have become as routine as a fire drill, school safety has never been at a higher priority.

It has also never been more dependent on how much money a school district has to pay for that security.

Springfield City Schools got all new video surveillance technology when it built new schools in the last 10 years. But now that technology is considered obsolete, according to Springfield City School District Superintendent David Estrop.

The school system is planning to spend $1.7 million from the bond issue passed earlier this year to update its video surveillance technology. The district is adding higher-definition cameras which will be able to see more, and in better quality.

“We’ve worked with professionals and Springfield Police to utilize technology to the greatest degree possible,” Estrop said.

School administrators can lock or unlock any door in the Springfield School System with a touch of a button. All classroom doors are locked during the day.

A visitor’s entry into the schools is by intercom only. The receptionist uses a video feed to decide to open the door or not.

Also, the school has invested in five full-time police officers, who are called school resource officers.

“They invested in the future of our city, our children and the future of the city by keeping them safe and secure with new buildings that will be maintained for many, many years,” Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop said.”I can not thank the people of Springfield enough.”

On the other side of the spectrum, a school system just over a dozen miles away has less-advanced security technology and no on-site officers.

The average age of a building in Urbana City Schools is more than 85 years old, and the system has minimal video surveillance, according to the Superintendent Charles Thiel. Part of the Urbana High School was built in the 1800’s.

The district has made additions over the years, adding modular classrooms outside the main building to have enough space. This necessitates keeping doors unlocked during the school day. Twenty percent of the doors have to remain unlocked to facilitate the transfer of students, according to Thiel.

The school district tried to get bond issues passed for new buildings around the time Springfield did in 2005, but voters did not approve them. It tried again in 2006 and ended up losing by 120 votes.

“We’ve got to consider the ongoing viability of our current structures,” said Thiel, when asked why the district has not invested into a high-tech security system yet. “We don’t want to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a structure we may not be using in two years.”

Urbana is planning to get a team together to create a plan for new school buildings, he said.

Thiel also argues that even though his smaller school district does not have elaborate security systems, the relationships formed by smaller classrooms can help deter some violent situations.

“You can be too big and just have too many people and not really know each other. I think more cases fall through the cracks potentially,” Thiel said.

He added that teachers may have students for multiple years in a row and are more likely to see changes in a student’s attitude.

Estrop agreed to some extent saying, “The most important thing is still for people to be looking for things that don’t look right.”

Miami University Sociology Professor Glenn Muschert, whose research focuses on school shootings and school security, said in a Springfield News-Sun article last year that lots of security cameras and police in schools can give parents relief. But “If they create a feeling among students that they’re in a lockdown zone that might actually undermine the primary goal of their education.”

Research has shown more subtle approaches are often more effective, such as teaching peer mediation and conflict resolution skills to students and establishing tip lines where students and staff can report threats and other suspicious behavior anonymously, Muschert said.

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