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Dallas Schools to Make Security Updates Across the District

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by Marissa Budzynski

The Dallas ISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of proposal to tighten school security in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shootings.

The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December were a wake-up call for the Dallas Independent School District, say officials. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Feb. 28 in favor of a $4.5 million proposal to improve security systems across the district in an effort to prevent such a tragedy here.

“As tragic as Dec. 14 was, I said we would learn something and be better because of it,” Craig Miller, the district’s chief of police, told the DISD Board of Trustees at a recent meeting. Miller presented recommendations for improving security throughout the district.

The proposal recommends the addition of peepholes to portable classrooms, buzzers and card readers, and security cameras. The plan allocates $2 million towards additional security for Dallas ISD’s 150 elementary schools. An additional $2.5 million will be spent on improvements to security cameras in 23 middle schools and high schools across the district.

“Emergency preparedness is part of the Dallas ISD police department as it wasn’t before,” said Miller. “There’s no excuse for not taking care of things we need to.”

Jane Lampton is a retired teacher with 25 years of experience teaching for Dallas ISD and continues to volunteer for the district. While she says she hasn’t witnessed any problems, she still believes that improvements in security are necessary.

“It’s not a question of if something’s going to happen, but when,” said Lampton, who attended a recent board meeting. “Even though nothing bad has happened yet, you have got to be prepared.”

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The incident became the second deadliest shooting in U.S. history.

Prior to the shootings in Newtown, Dallas ISD police responded to elementary schools on a need basis only. After the tragedy, however, police set up a task force to visit schools and determine weaknesses in security. They discovered that the district’s elementary schools, especially older ones, were incredibly insecure, Miller said. Several entrances were unattended and unlocked, allowing strangers to enter schools without school employees knowing.

“We want our schools to be inviting, but this is a different climate these days,” board trustee Nancy Bingham said. “It cannot be inviting to the point where they feel like they can come in and drag a teacher out of the classroom.”

To address weaknesses in elementary school security, the district’s police department recommended installing buzzer and card reader systems at school entrances. Buzzers would be placed at main entrances, allowing school office workers to screen visitors before letting them inside the building. The card reader systems would be placed at other entrances throughout the school, allowing employees to enter while keeping doors locked to strangers. Miller is optimistic that the buzzers and card readers could be in place before the end of the school year.

The addition of school security cameras is the most costly part of the proposal, requiring $3.5 million dollars in funding. Elementary schools will each receive 8-camera recording systems. In addition, 23 secondary schools will receive cameras or have improvements made to current systems. Dallas ISD police believe the cameras will not only increase student safety, but also help prevent crimes such as theft, burglary and vandalism.

Another security measure that will be seen in both elementary and secondary schools is the installation of peepholes on each of the district’s 1,200 portable classrooms. While the measure seems simple, Miller stressed its importance, saying that teachers have no idea who is knocking before they open a door, which could be dangerous — especially during lockdowns.

While Miller and his team are working hard to ensure safer school environments, he says there’s one change he’s not willing to make.

“I’m definitely opposed to armed teachers,” Chief Miller said. “Highly trained Dallas Police Department officers, when using deadly force, are questioned whether it was necessary, and that’s their job.”

Miller thinks that changes in Dallas’ elementary schools will be part of a nationwide trend. He believes the disaster in Newtown will instigate security updates in elementary schools across the U.S., much like the Virginia Tech massacre did for university campuses.

“I commend Chief Miller for moving in the right direction. It’s a great first step,” trustee Elizabeth Jones said.

 

Marissa Budzynski is a sophomore at Southern Methodist University studying journalism and finance. She can be reached at mbudzynski@smu.edu

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