The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last Friday highlighted the importance of well-rehearsed safety procedures. Here in Summit County, the superintendents at all three local school districts have been reassuring parents and staff they have security plans in place and conduct regular drills. However, in the wake of the most recent school shooting, all of them anticipate reinforcing those plans.
Park City School District
Park City School District Acting Superintendent Tom Van Gorder said he met with a team of Park City Police and Summit County Sheriff's department personnel on Monday to review their safety plans and resources. Coincidentally, he said, the district had already scheduled a review of its crisis management plan in January.
"We want to make sure it is on the front burner," he said.
Regarding access to the district's schools he said, "We make every effort to ensure we have a single point of entry for each school and visitors must report to the secretary to get a pass."
However, due to the number of parking lots at Park City High School, Van Gorder explained that some additional doors there may be unlocked, a policy that could change. "We will be looking at convenience versus safety; it is time to look at that issue again," he said.
The Park City School District regularly performs a variety of emergency drills including sheltering in place, evacuation and lockdown. "The schools have been doing that for years," Van Gorder said, adding that the district office and the principals have "panic buttons" that allow them to lock down all exterior doors and to call 911.
He added, "We have an outstanding collaboration with the Park City Police Department and with the Summit County Sheriff's Department. They are constantly doing training." Each agency has a full-time resource officer assigned to the district during school hours.
South Summit School District
According to South Summit School District Superintendent Barry Walker, all external doors at each of the three schools, except for the main entrances, are locked throughout the day. The main doors are within sight of the front office, are constantly monitored, and all visitors are required to check in, he said.
Two years ago, regional law-enforcement personnel conducted an elaborate drill at South Summit High School involving a scenario with a gunman and several victims. Armed police officers swept the school while students were locked down and then evacuated.
Since then, Walker said, the district has held additional drills, but without armed officers or actors. They take place twice a year and cover a variety of situations including fire evacuations and lockdowns due to potential hostile intruders. He added that the district has the means to automatically lock the exterior doors of every school with the swipe of a card.
"Our awareness is obviously heightened at this time," Walker said on Monday. As to any changes in current school safety policies, he said, "We aren't talking about it at this time but it may come."
North Summit School District
North Summit School District Superintendent Jerre Holmes said he watched the television coverage of the shooting in Connecticut intently in hopes of learning something that could avert a similar tragedy from happening in his district. "It is an awesome responsibility to have the safety of these children in your hands," he said. Unfortunately, he said, it appeared school staffers where the shooting took place had taken every possible precaution and they were still unable to prevent it.
Nevertheless, he said, "It is a reminder for us that we need to take measures we are going to make it our focus."
Holmes said all doors except the main entrances at North Summit's middle and elementary schools are locked and the front doors are monitored with cameras. But, he said, limiting access to the high school, which is comprised of two separate buildings is problematic. "It is evident we need to beef up the way we do it at the high school," he said.
Like most other districts, Holmes said, North Summit conducts periodic safety drills. But he lamented, the district had not conducted any yet this year. "We need to make lockdowns more of a priority. We can't just sit back and hope we are the lucky ones and this won't happen."
Holmes said he planned to approach his board about reviewing the district's safety measures and that he had already reached out to the county sheriff's office for advice.
"My message is this is a good time for us to review our policies and make it more of a priority," he said.
Summit County Sheriff's Department
The Summit County Sheriff's Department has a full-time deputy at each of the three local school districts. Those officers are primarily responsible for enforcing state laws related to narcotics and truancy but, according to Detective Sergeant Ron Bridge, "they are also available as first responders for any medical or law enforcement emergency.
Bridge said the department conducts special training sessions several times a year focusing on a variety of possible emergencies. "The sheriff's office is dedicated to the students' safety. We take it to heart. Many of our deputies have children in the schools, so it's personal to us."