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Local schools will tighten security

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Your typical school could have a few dozen teachers, janitors, librarians, parents, lunch ladies and repair men walking through the halls on any given day.

It’s hard to know every one of those faces though, says Carol Johnson, who has two kids at Edwards Elementary.

She’s in favor of some new security measures the school district is considering to keep tabs on all the people coming in and out of our schools.

“I think my kids are really safe in school, but there are a lot of bizarre things going on out there, so the more we can do, the better,” Johnson said.

One action will be requiring all staffers, from teachers to maintenance men, to wear district ID badges at all times.

Some schools do this now, but it’s important to have everyone in a school say loud and clear who they are and why they’re there, Superintendent John Brendza said.

Schools are already required to have visitors check into the front office and wear a security badge during their visit.

“We have people coming in the buildings on a daily basis who aren’t always there and aren’t always recognizable,” Brendza said. “We need more consistency.”

Johnson said she volunteers at Edwards Elementary often and recognizes most faces ” it’s when a visiting grandparent or maybe a repairman walks by that she’s not sure of whether a person belongs.

“It’s a great thing that schools have open-door policies, that grandparents can come and watch a child’s class while they’re in town, so to take that away would be a shame,” Johnson said. “But when someone doesn’t have their badge, you can say, ‘Can I help you sir? Can I help you ma’am?’ and make sure they check in.”

The other approach is more technological ” a future network of security cameras in the schools.

When voters approved the $128 million bond last November, they also approved a wide array of technology upgrades, including a big boost to in-school computer networks.

When those upgrades are installed this summer, workers will also install make it possible for security cameras to someday be connected to those networks, said technology director John Kuglin.

“It’s unfortunate, but needed,” Kuglin said. “It’s definitely a growing trend ” every time that we have an instance like we’ve had in the news lately, you’re going to see more and more of this.”

Schools might be using cameras as soon as next year, or it could take a few years, depending on funding. The cameras themselves aren’t covered by the bond money and need school board approval.

Security cameras work best as a crime deterrent and a way to collect evidence, said Ted Eichholz, a school resource officer assigned by the sheriff’s department.

“If they know there is a possibility of being recorded, the chances of them committing that crime go way down,” Eichholz said. “If a crime is committed, we have those screen captures that you see on the news, we have that evidence.”

Law enforcement will also have the ability to watch those cameras from inside their patrol cars, which could be helpful in a dangerous situations, Eichholz said.

“The key is monitoring ” making sure the people in the schools are supposed to be there,” said Carrie Benway, who has two daughters at Edwards Elementary.

Just days after the massacre at Virginia Tech University, Brendza sent out a letter to parents and staff asking them to talk with children about keeping their eyes open for strangers and strange behavior.

“If students see someone in their school that they don’t recognize, or observe erratic behavior and/or overhear threatening conversations, they should tell their teacher or principal immediately,” Brendza said. “This is the single most important thing we can do to keep our schools safe and it is a responsibility that we all share.”

Badges and cameras are helpful and all, but teaching kids, especially young ones, about strangers can make a big difference, Johnson said.

“It makes me sad for my kids ” it wasn’t like this when I was in school,” Johnson said. “I don’t want them to get scared at school. You can’t live in fear. You just have to live your life.”

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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