The shooting spree that killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in December 2012 sparked safety concerns at schools nationwide.
In Waupaca, school officials began reviewing the district’s emergency response plans.
They also examined how to make Waupaca’s four public school buildings safer.
Dr. Dave Poeschl, the district administrator, said school staff met with law enforcement, firefighters, county emergency planners, insurance analysts and others to determine what changes could increase safety at the schools.
“We’re not making these changes solely due to the armed intruder,” Poeschl said. “We want to protect our students from all kinds of hazards, such as tornadoes and fires and kidnappings.”
The type of kidnapping a school is most likely to face involves divorced parents. A parent without legal custody may come into the school and take the child without the other parent’s permission.
Changes in how adults are allowed into the schools are being implemented.
Access to the buildings will become more difficult, even for parents.
“We’ve always wanted to welcome the community, parents and grandparents, into our schools,” Poeschl said. “We still welcome people into our buildings but we’re taking much more care. It will be more inconvenient than it has been in the past, but that’s the price we pay for ensuring the safety of our children.”
“We have a responsibility to provide a safe environment, not only for our students but for other employees in the buildings,” said Steve Shambeau, the school board president.
Shambeau said the district needs to do all that it can to ensure the safety of children and staff by constantly upgrading the schools’ security technology.
Security project costs
The Waupaca School Board approved spending $835,000 for new security systems at all four schools.
The upgrades include new security cameras, new radios, new entry systems into the buildings, protective glass on the main entry doors and a major change in how parents pick up and drop off their children at Waupaca Middle School.
Poeschl said most of the money will come from the district’s capital improvements fund.
He noted that the school board began setting aside money into a capital projects fund in 2000, when the new high school was built.
The sale of Riverside and Westwood elementary schools provided a major source of money for the capital projects funds.
New traffic pattern
The school board approved $20,780 to reconfigure traffic at the middle school.
“When we moved the fifth grade from the learning center to the middle school, the increased number of students who needed to be picked up and dropped off at that facility became a bigger safety issue,” Poeschl said. “We brought in traffic experts, local police, the fire chief, city engineers and staff to try to develop a solution.”
The goal is to separate vehicle traffic from school buses at both Waupaca Middle School and Waupaca Learning Center.
The middle school’s pick-up and drop-off site will no longer be located directly in front of the main entrance. Instead, parents will pick up their children at a traffic island near the middle of the parking lot, located between the middle school and learning center.
Poeschl described the new site as a work in progress. He said the district plans to have the new traffic pattern in place by the beginning of the fall.
Ways to communicate
The district plans to spend $123,000 on a new radio communications system at all four schools.
“There are times when students are outside for recess or in the athletic fields. If something happens, we need teachers to be able to communicate with the office,” Poeschl said.
Julie Eiden is the district’s technology coordinator. She said the current walkie-talkie system has dead spots both inside and outside the buildings.
“We’ll be able to communicate throughout all of the buildings, between buildings and out into the athletic fields,” Eiden said.
She noted that the new radios will have a single button that can be pushed to notify law enforcement of an emergency situation. It will communicate directly with the county’s emergency communications system, providing the exact location of the radio.
Video security system
The district will spend up to $385,000 on upgrading its video security system.
A total of 130 new video cameras will be installed throughout all four schools.
Poeschl noted that the current cameras at the high school and middle school were installed in 2000, during the major building and remodeling project.
“We’ve tried to keep up, but technology has passed us by,” Poeschl said.
The new cameras will provide better coverage of both interiors and exteriors, better recording capabilities and better visibility at night. The pictures will have more detail and there will be live monitoring of the system.
The new cameras will also allow the district to implement its new access system.
A new building access system will require all staff to have key cards.
“It will record who enters and when they enter a building,” Poeschl said. “If a door is left open or ajar, the system will notify the office.”
In conjunction with the camera system, the school office will be able to track who left a door open or who entered the building.
The new system will cost up to $206,000.
It will also give schools more control over who enters the building.
When visitors come to the school during normal class hours, they will need to enter through the main doors.
At each school, the main entrance has two sets of doors. Visitors will be able to walk through the first set of doors, but the interior set of doors will be locked.
Visitors will need to push a button to notify office staff that someone is at the entrance. The staff person then will look at a monitor to see who wants to enter the building.
The staff will then ask who the visitor is and the purpose of the visit. They will also ask to see ID, which the visitor will have to hold up to a camera.
“They will be buzzed in through the second set of doors and told to report to the office,” Poeschl said.
When visitors report to the office, they will be given an ID badge. They will also be required to leave their keys or a credit card that will be returned when they leave.
“The reason we do that is they will need to check out, so we know who is and is not in the building,” Poeschl said.
The district is spending $48,000 to add a layer of protective glass to each school’s main entrance.
The protective glass is to avoid the scenario at Sandy Hook where the killer was able to shoot his way through the locked doors.
The additional layer of glass will be shatterproof. While a bullet can penetrate the protective glass and shatter the interior glass, the protective glass will remain intact.
Other security improvements include new technology for cell phone communications.
Currently, there are dead spots throughout the high school, middle school and learning center.
Eiden said an external antenna will be installed at these three schools, as well as internal antennas and new wiring above the ceiling.
The enhanced cellular technology is being paid for from this year’s technology budget.
The district is also working with the Waupaca Police Department to hire a second liaison officer.
Chief Tim Goke has applied for a COPPS grant that would cover 75 percent of the cost for three years, with the district and the city splitting the remaining 25 percent.
Under the terms of the grant, the city and the district are required to retain the liaison officer for a fourth year.