One week after the tragedy in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, children in Bryan County are out of classes and home for the holidays.
Come January, they must return. And they must be assured of their safety at school.
The horrific incident in Connecticut left 26 people dead, many of them children. Though this took place 1,500 miles away from Durant, this case has many people in the education community double-checking their security safeguards.
Dr. Jason Simeroth, superintendent of schools in Durant, said several parents called and asked about safety measures this week. Classes were in session Monday and Tuesday before the winter break began.
“Whenever you hear of something like this, even if it’s in another state, you automatically look inward,” Simeroth said. “Are we doing enough? There’s a flood of emotion, and a lot of that will settle over the break. But (safety) is a constant, and we discuss that all the time.”
As educators witnessing the tragedy from afar, the issue will certainly be on the agenda of a Jan. 2, 2013, meeting of Durant school administrators. But Simeroth wished to reassure Durant parents that recent bond issues had allowed the district to install numerous security features on its campuses.
“Less than 1 percent of all violent crimes happen in school, so it’s still one of the safest places to be,” he said. “At our schools, once school starts, a visitor has to check in with someone. All the doors are supposed to be locked, and I’ll do random checks to make sure they are. For example, at Northwest Heights Elementary, there’s a glass wall, and you can’t go any further. (Security) is one thing we’ve spent a lot of money on.”
Other access methods are being evaluated and new systems implemented, such as card key access instead of metal keys. In fact, Simeroth can lock down the entire district from his office. “That’s very handy, and it’s at the drop of a hat.”
He said one of the most helpful ways to keep schools safe is to encourage students to be proactive and notify school personnel to suspicious activity or communications. “It’s one of the biggest things they can do to help themselves.
The high school has no lockers, and a deputy is on staff throughout the school day. An officer is available at Durant Middle School as well, but staffing all campuses with law enforcement or qualified security personnel - sometimes called “school resource officers” – would require funding currently unavailable to Durant and most school districts.
“We may look at something for the elementary schools,” Simeroth said. “We haven’t had a board meeting since this happened, and that’s more of a board issue. Unfortunately, everything comes back to funding. The state or federal government will have to step up and help with that.”