Q-C area schools address safety in wake of Newtown

Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2013, 9:13 pm
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By Kelly Steiner, ksteiner@qconline.com
Quad-Cities area school officials re-evaluating safety policies in the wake of the Newtown shootings want to improve security, but none of those interviewed for this article foresee dramatic changes.

Most schools have buzzers at doors and security cameras to monitor halls and work with local police departments on safety issues. Others take it a step further with hall monitors, security guards and police liaison officers.

Still, many districts want more security.

"Some of our schools, for various reasons, are more modernized than others," Moline superintendent Dave Moyer said. Some offices aren't in the best place safety-wisein older buildings.

Faculty, staff and students at Moline schools will soon be trained to intervene or barricade against an intruder if necessary. Evacuation plans also are being examined,

"I know we would like to look at the high school," Rock Island/Milan marketing coordinator Holly Sparkman said, referring to the front doors that don't have buzzers. Instead, a hall monitor is at the door and a police liaison officer is always at the school.

All other schools in the district have a doorway buzzer system in place.Lack of money has prevented security changes, according to Ms. Sparkman.

The Orion school district expects to add more security cameras and secondary locks on classroom doors by next school year.

It also plans to adopt the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) program, which is designed to teach students and teachers the best ways to stay safe or, if needed, gain control of an armed intruder. The program is gaining popularity in Quad-Cities schools.

Budgets play a part

Rockridge schools hope to update doorway systems and cameras in the next couple of years but have to wait until it's in the budget.

At Riverdale, camera systems are 10 years old, but superintendent Rob Jacobs said there's no money to update them without raising taxes. "What we have in place is about as good as we can do," he said.

Silvis Junior High School has new equipment, and the elementary school will be moved to the renovated junior high after spring break.

"I'm happy with what we have," Silvis superintendent Ray Bergles said.The junior high has 12 cameras, and the new elementary school will have a similar setup. Visitors must be buzzed into a doorway waiting area before being buzzed again into the main school.

At all schools, visitors have to enter through the main doors and all others are locked.

Geneseo schools have passcards for employees to get in outside doors, and visitors have to buzz and sign in for a visitor's pass. Security cameras are outside entrance doors, and a guard is always on scene at the high school.

"All of our schools have security cameras," Geneseo director of operationsJack Schlindwein said. They are monitored by a police liaison officer regularly.

Classroom doors also lock when closed, an extra safety precaution.

Many schools have a phone messaging system to notify parents of school cancellations, lockdowns or other issues.

Emergency measures used little

While these measures are in place, schools don't have to use them often.

"In the five years I've been here, we've never had to rely on our security," Orion superintendent Dave Deets said. "Hopefully, it remains that way for many years."

Officials from other schools echoed that response but said they've locked down for situations in the community such as bank robberies, prison escapees or hostage situations nearby.

All of them put their safety practices to use with drills at least once a year so students, faculty and staff know what to do in case of a real emergency.

Silvis schools have a plan to evacuate to the Quad City Downs and local churches, but haven't practiced yet. TheSilvis and East Moline police departments will practice drills in the schools over spring break.

United Township principal Carl Johnson said faculty and staff constantly have their eyes and ears open to concerns with students.

Mr. Johnson focuses on the human relationship aspect of keeping schools safe. The tragedy of Newtown shows"certain things cannot be overcome with facilities," he said.

United Township has five counselors, and teachers are trained to pay attention to students' behavior. Mr. Johnson said incidents within school walls are "few and far between."

Mr. Bergles thinks Silvis schools have more counselors at the elementary than most schools but said it prevents problems before they get serious.

Fights used to be a problem at Silvis, but Mr. Bergles said positive behavior programs have helped.

"It's really cleaned up. We haven't taken anyone out in handcuffs" for a long time, he said.

Drills and mental preparation

At Riverdale, Mr. Jacobs expects there to be more drills every year as well as communication on a "much more regular basis" with students, faculty and staff. They will be trained more regularly and will have a chance to give input on changes that should be made.

Aside from being more mentally prepared, Mr. Jacobs doesn't anticipate any major changes to any of the three schools."There's a lot of small things we can do," he said.

While measures are mostly precautionary, school officials realize efforts need to be top notch in case of an emergency.

All schools evaluate their safety procedures at least once a year. Most don't have a new plan yet for this year but will evaluate it thoroughly for needed changes, keeping the Newtown tragedy in mind.

"We're never going to be done, we're never going to be satisfied," said Mr. Johnson."There's always going to be cases where what you're doing just isn't good enough."


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Sept. 17, the 260th day of 2014. There are 105 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: We are told league merchants have paid no attention to the prohibition on selling ammunition, but continue to sell just as before the order was issued.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. R.F. Sweet, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish, left for the East to visit his boyhood home in Boston before attending the general convention of the Episcopal Church in New York.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dr. E.A. Anderson was named to succeed Dr. E.L. Kerns as head physician of the Modern Woodmen of America, and moved to Rock Island from Holdingford, Minn.
1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Employees in Turnstyle stores in Moline and Davenport will vote Oct. 2 in an election set up by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Employees will vote either for the Retail Clerk International or for no union.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Rock Island High School is considering a step to help teen moms stay in school and get their diploma. The school board is expected to vote tonight on instituting an on-site child care center.

(More History)