Another tragic school shooting—the slaughter of 17 people at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day—should prompt area school districts to examine their security systems and consider how to pay for upgrades.
Security problems or weaknesses should rise to the top of school board agendas, ahead of less critical matters, such as plans for improving athletic facilities.
Yes, we’re referring mainly to the Milton School District. It has allowed debates over building a new high school and upgrading its athletic facilities to crowd out discussion and action on security upgrades. A Feb. 12 school board meeting highlighted the district’s misplaced priorities, with school board members giving their attention to a track and pool, even though the district still hasn’t upgraded entryways at four schools, including the high school.
To its credit, the district has renovated entryways at three elementary schools—Harmony, East and West—so visitors cannot walk directly into the schools without going through office areas, where staff can verify whether the visitors should be allowed in. The renovations provide two locked barriers, first at the outdoor entrance and again at a doorway to enter the office. At each point, an employee must “buzz” a person into the school.
The importance of a secure entryway should be self-evident. Security projects that might prevent—or at least slow—a potential shooter from entering classrooms deserve fast-track treatment. Regardless of any shooter threat, it’s smart policy to ensure everyone entering a school first enter the office before approaching classroom areas.
“I would say that you want to know who is in your buildings at all times,” said Stephen Schantz, Milton’s buildings and grounds supervisor, about the need for upgrading entryways.
In an interview with The Gazette, Schantz noted the district hopes to finish within five years entryway projects at Northside and Consolidated elementary schools and at the middle school and high school (The most recent five-year plan would provide $450,000 to upgrade the high school entryway in 2022-23.).
But the district could finish these projects sooner if voters approved a security referendum, which could also include money to make the district’s bathrooms and other facilities compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The price tag for such a security/ADA measure would likely be less than $4 million, according to our review of the district’s five-year plan.
While voters recently rejected two much pricier referendums—the cheapest being $70 million—to finance a new high school, we believe voters would back a referendum narrowly tailored to security and handicap accessibility.
The district shouldn’t delay implementation of security measures in hopes of someday passing a more expensive referendum to build a new high school. School board members need to recalibrate and focus on quickly completing new entryways for the four schools lacking them.
What if a tragedy were to unfold at one of the district’s schools with an outdated entryway? What excuse would district officials have?
The Valentine’s Day slaughter in Florida should be the only reason the district needs to make security a top priority.