Lee superintendent proposes school safety enhancements

Jan. 03, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month, Lee County Schools are looking to beef up security on all 16 campuses around the district.

Superintendent Jeff Moss will ask for additional funds at Monday's meeting of the Lee County Board of Commissioners to secure the front entrances of all the schools and to install electronic locks at all secondary entrances. Moss said school officials have been considering additional security for some time, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 26 people was the catalyst that prompted them to act.

In an email sent about two weeks ago, Moss told County Manager John Crumpton he was in the process of soliciting bids for the security systems. On Wednesday, Moss said two security companies had toured the schools, with a third on its way, and their bids would be in by Friday.

John Bonardi, vice-chairman of the Lee County Board of Education and chairman of the board's Facilities and Technology Committee, which would oversee the implementation of the security systems, said he couldn't be sure until he sees the bids, but estimated the proposed measures would cost about $300,000.

At the main entrance of each school, which is now kept open during school hours, Moss wants an audio-visual intercom system that would let staff buzz visitors into the school. He said anyone who is armed would obviously not be let in, as well as people who are banned from school grounds either by court order or the district's own judgment.

Other than those cut-and-dried situations, Moss said, receptionists would use their own judgment in deciding whether to allow or deny entrance to someone, or to take another route such as calling a principal or school resource officer for additional help.

He said the main entrances are the biggest concern but that secondary doors — which are normally kept locked, accessible only by keys given to staff — could also use a digital update. Moss said that would hopefully lead to staff no longer leaving a door open inadvertently, which he said does sometimes happen.

"Part of the problem is, for instance at an elementary school where students are going in and out from the modular classroom units outside, or during recess, doors can get propped open so kids can go in and out to use the bathroom," he said. "This way, they can have ease of access in and out."

In addition to the physical improvements he's proposing, Moss said the district is also revamping its emergency procedures. He declined to give specifics, saying he didn't want potential wrongdoers to know where students will be going to and from during emergencies.

Bonardi said if the county approves the appropriations on Monday, the school board will take a vote at its own meeting the next day, Jan. 8, during which the panel will also be discussing a controversial calendar change. If both boards approve the request, he said, the systems could be installed within just a few weeks.

Acknowledging other security proposals that have been floated in the wake of the Newtown shootings, Moss said he thinks what he's proposing is the best solution for Lee County — and that other plans might actually do more harm than good.

"I know the [National Rifle Association's] promoting arming everyone on campus, but I don't know that I'm a proponent of letting guns into my schools," he said.