In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, student safety been a regular topic of conversation for parents and school officials across the nation.
That conversation has been just as prevalent in the Oxford Schools community and will soon lead to some policy changes for parents, students and visitors, according to officials.
This reporter recently sat down with Superintendent Tim Throne, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Sam Barna, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Nancy Latowski and Director of Communications and Marketing Matt Johnson to discuss the district’s ongoing efforts to bolster security districtwide.
Barna estimates that the district has spent more than $200,000 out of the general fund budget over the last year in safety-related expenses.
These expenses have included the installation of new intercoms and buzzer systems to secure the main entryways of previously unsecured schools, active shooter training for all staff and the annual salaries of the district’s police liaison officer and security officer.
While Throne said district officials have always kept student safety a “top-priority,” they’ve been further upping security over the last several years– focusing primarily on securing interior and exterior doors of schools.
One way they’ve done that, according to Barna, was by installing security devices designed to barricade doors on interior doors throughout the district in February 2017.
Additional security devices were also installed in the main entryways of schools throughout the district, which has resulted in every school now having a video intercom system or buzzer which must be used by visitors to gain access.
Video intercoms have been installed in buildings where a direct line of sight is not possible for office staff while buzzer systems have been installed in all other buildings.
All other exterior doors are kept locked throughout the school day to maintain “one point of entry,” according to Throne.
By keeping just one point of entry at each school, school officials hope to make it easier for school personnel to monitor visitors and keep dangerous intruders out.
All school doors have also been numbered to help guide emergency responders to the proper area in case of an emergency.
Policy changes have also taken effect at area schools as all visitors are now required to use voice/video intercoms to gain access to schools and to check in with a state-issued driver’s license or identification during school hours.
Those visiting will also be asked through the intercom to state their reason for entering, Throne added.
“It’s that convenience factor versus that safety factor. While it may make things a little less convenient, we’re working towards community safety, not just individual convenience. (These policies) will be new, but it will be for the safety and security of our students and staff members,” Throne said.
In April 2018, all school staff also began receiving online active shooter training through the Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evaluate (ALICE) Training Institute.
Through the same program, some Oxford Schools staff members have also been receiving on-site training which will certify them to provide annual, age-appropriate, active shooter drills to both staff and students.
Building trainers will begin running these live action drills at each school starting in August.
The cost of this training for three years comes out to around $21,000 in total, according to Barna.
“Safety and security is an ongoing budget line item within our district’s operational budget. The safety of our students is paramount,” Barna added.
While teachers and staff members have always been issued badges, Latowski said they are now being required to wear these badges at all times so that they will be easier to identify.
Another policy change which will soon take effect to promote safety will be a limit on the size of bags which are permitted at football games and other school events.
“Purses are fine, but people need to be mindful of what they bring to events and avoid bringing big bags,” Johnson said.
Parking policies at Oxford High School will also soon be changed, Throne added.
“(Visitors) will no longer be able to pull up over the curb and park in the grass or along the turnaround (road) or along the entryway in front of the school,” Throne said. “They’ll have to park in a legitimate parking spot, whether they’re coming for an athletic event or for some type of performance—otherwise, they’ll get a ticket or be towed. While it might be inconvenient, safety comes first. The way people are parking there right now… it’s craziness and a danger to our students.”
According to Throne, the district’s safety and security committee (which consists of staff, community members and law enforcement personnel) will continue to look for ways to enhance school security and protect students.
To keep the community updated on future policy changes and safety-focused purchases, Throne said a “safety update” will be provided once a month during Oxford Board of Education meetings