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Wednesday, February 20,2013

'Beefing up' security

Lansing School District considering heightened security at its buildings

by Sam Inglot
The Lansing School District is considering spending roughly a half-million dollars to heighten security at all of its buildings. One district official says the expansion has been contemplated for years and is not a reaction to the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.

The proposal is an expansion of a program in place at three middle schools and the district’s three high schools that give faculty key cards to access locked exterior doors besides the main entrance. This “keyless access system” would be applied to the remaining 24 district buildings. The administration building is undergoing the upgrades this week.

Brian Ralph, the district’s chief operations officer, said rather than traditional “hard keys,” employees would have individual key cards to unlock doors. Building doors could be locked and unlocked from a central point in each building.

Ralph said the estimated cost would be between $400,000 and $500,000. He said the administration would be bringing a proposal before the Board of Education within the next six weeks after bids for the project have been sent out. 

“It is not a cheap proposition,” Ralph said. “But it basically creates an additional layer of security in all of our buildings.”

School security has been a hot-button issue in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 that killed 20 children and six adults. But Ralph said the district’s plans to beef up security have been in the works for the past several years. The massacre in Newtown had nothing to do with it.

“We always had that as a potential project and started it in phases,” Ralph said. “We started with secondary buildings and now we’re moving onto the elementary schools. This has always been a part of what we had in mind. We recognize that we need safe schools. The idea of beefing up security or enhancing entry systems has always been on the table prior to the Newtown disaster.”

Ralph said Lansing’s three high schools — Everett, Eastern and Sexton — have had card swipe access systems for about two years. Pattengill, Gardner and the STEM Academy also have the same systems, Ralph said. The key cards, for faculty only, unlock exterior doors that aren’t the main entrance to the building, which is unlocked during school hours. The system would be expanded to every district building under the proposal.

In the six buildings where the system is in place, doors can be locked and unlocked from a central location, like the office, which makes security protocols like lockdown drills much easier to manage. 

The district has had two buildings go into lockdown recently, Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul has said. Everett High School went into lockdown in December when a neighbor saw kids with what turned out to be a toy gun on their way to school. And in January, an elementary school went into lockdown because of a domestic dispute, Caamal Canul said. She has said that the elementary school probably wouldn’t have gone into lockdown before Newtown. 

Along with the key card systems, Ralph said the district is considering installing security cameras in some of the district’s larger buildings. He said they are already installed in the three high schools. 

Lansing Board of Education President Guillermo Lopez said he has not seen the proposal from the administration, but he said school security has been an ongoing discussion for the board. He said he is open to the key card system as long as it doesn’t cause an inconvenience to students and staff and is affordable. 

The district’s budget is already stretched thin as it is, so it will be up to the board whether to spend precious dollars on additional security measures. 

Caamal Canul has said if the district does “absolutely nothing” to trim the budget, the district faces a nearly $10 million deficit in the next school year.

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