In light of the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Waupaca School District has been reviewing its emergency response plans.
Dr. Dave Poeschl, the district administrator, said Waupaca first developed its emergency response protocols in 2005.
He said the district worked with Waupaca County’s Emergency Management Director Andrew Carlin to establish plans and to review how to make the buildings as safe as possible.
“We brought people from outside organizations to walk through our buildings, inside and out, and make recommendations,” Poeschl said. “Based on their recommendations, we numbered the exits so that we could identify them. We made sure the custodian closets were locked, and we removed clutter.”
Poeschl said the goal was not only to secure the buildings from outside intruders but to ensure the safety of the children inside the building.
For example, the schools made sure that any TVs on rolling carts were strapped down.
The district also developed color codes to indicate the type of emergency.
The color codes are used over the public announcement system to inform teachers if there is a lockdown, an evacuation or a shelter-in-place emergency response.
Each classroom has its own designated area where children are sent if the school is being evacuated or if they need to go to a safe place during a severe storm.
“The SWAT team came into the high school and conducted exercises,” Poeschl said. “Our students weren’t in the school, but we had all our staff in place to give them an experience of what that would be like.”
Since 2005, Waupaca schools have adapted sign-in policies for adult visitors during school hours.
Some Waupaca administrators have also earned certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of their training.
In addition to the SWAT team exercise, staff at Waupaca schools have also participated in two tabletop exercises with local emergency response staff from law enforcement, public works, hospitals and human services.
“We examined how we would respond if there was water contamination and if a tornado took out the middle school,” Poeschl said.
Since the school shooting incident in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed, the district has reviewed and updated some of its policies.
The district has a policy that all doors, except the main entrances, are locked during the school day.
Visitors must stop at the office, sign in and sign out and wear either a badge or a sticker while they are in the building.
“We did a review of the locked-door policy and found that over time, some holes had developed, so we made changes,” Poeschl said.
Some of the problems with controlled entry into the schools are related to the design of the buildings.
At most of the schools, the offices are located near the front entrance, and visitors must pass the windows of the main office as they enter the building.
However, at two of the schools, the offices are located down the hallway from the entrance.
Visitors can enter the building without being seen.
“At the Chain School and Waupaca Learning Center, we have cameras installed at the front entrance and monitors in the office,” Poeschl said. “It’s the best we can do with the way the facilities are designed. The middle school and the high school have much broader coverage with their camera system.”
Chain O’ Lakes Elementary School now keeps its main entrance door locked throughout the day and any visitor must be accompanied into the building.
At the high school, there are two main entrances on either side of the commons.
One of the entrances is from the student parking lot, while the other is from the staff parking lot.
“We have teachers scheduled to monitor those doors throughout the day,” Poeschl said.
The district has also asked its police liaison officer to be more visible throughout the day and at special events, such as concerts, where large numbers of visitors come into a building during the school day.
Poeschl said Waupaca police will sometimes visit the schools and do a walk-through of the building.
Poeschl also discussed the buzzer system used by the Weyauwega-Fremont school system.
All the doors, including the front doors, are locked and all visitors have to be buzzed into the building.
“You can have a locked door and a buzzer system, but is it truly effective?” Poeschl asked. “If we installed a buzzer at the learning center, we’d have to make major revisions to the building.”
Poeschl said that on a single day, 140 people came into the Waupaca Learning Center and signed in before going to a classroom.
“But we know there were some parents who just walked into the building, went to a classroom and picked up their children without signing in. That’s a concern,” Poeschl said.
He said one goal is to make the building’s security more visible, “so that people coming in know that they are being watched.”
Poeschl said the district is also examining ways to train teachers to recognize signs of stress and other problems that students may exhibit.
Poeschl sees some conflict between increased security and the social objectives of public schools.
“We can find opportunities to make a safer school, but there’s no way to guarantee that a bad person can’t get in,” Poeschl said, noting that the Sandy Hook killer shot his way through a locked door to enter that school.
“School buildings have been designed to be open to the community. Over the years, we have encouraged adults from the community to come into our schools and spend time with our children,” he said. “All that is changing now.”