MEDFORD, Ore. — In the months since the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., schools across the country have taken steps to increase school security. But some schools say it’s still difficult adapting their campuses to new types of threats.
Some are finding new methods to protect their students.
“We’ve done an extensive review with Medford Police and some security people after the Sandy Hook tragedy,” said Medford Schools Superintendent Phil Long.
This year, Long has held several meetings with parents, outlining the new steps the district is taking to keep kids safe. The most pressing concern is the layout at schools like Hoover, Kennedy and Griffin Creek Elementary. The schools were built “California Style.” That means there are multiple buildings with several access points to the campus.
“That’s a piece that we want to fix at this school,” Long explained during a meeting at Hoover.
Parents say it’s the right move to protect their children.
“This has always been a school that’s accessible from anywhere,” said Janet Lightheart, a Hoover parent. “And I think it’s great that they are making some changes to make it a little more secure.”
An additional $589,000 is in the budget to make changes to those campuses over the summer, adding fences, doors and filtering guests through a single entrance.
“(We’re) having the office area reconfigured, so when guests come during the day they come through the office and check in before they get access to the rest of the school,” said Long.
Medford is also adding a new element to all of its schools in the coming year. Next to the fire alarms, there will be police alarms to alert 911 if pressed. Long said the button notifies emergency officials of the exact location where it was pressed.
As schools across Southern Oregon have learned, no one is isolated from the realities of school security. Shady Cove School has also made changes to deal with its older, rural and spread-out design.
“It does take time communicating between the office if there’s an emergency, calling 911, communicating between our middle school building and our gym and cafeteria. We do that quickly, and we’ve practiced it, but it takes time,” said Shady Cove School Principal Tiffanie Lambert.
Math teacher Dick Kendrick said the changes were necessary to balance an older campus with new threats.
“They’re not built with the dangers that we face today in mind,” he said. “It’s one thing having the kids in the classroom, but it’s another thing, because the kids go outside to go to the library, to go to the office, to go to other classes here and that does present a problem.”
But there’s only so much a rural school like Shady Cove can do. Doors are now locked during school hours. During an incident, the school is kept under lock and key.
“In an emergency situation, the teachers take their students in the classroom and lock their classroom doors,” explained Lambert.
It may work in the meantime, but not forever. Now, to protect the kids they care about, several groups are hoping to take a leap into the 21st century.
“We have kids, nine years they’re going to spend in one school. Do you learn to care about them, do you learn to care about moms and dads? Absolutely,” said Kendrick.
A new plan in Southern Oregon would create an unprecedented approach to school security, something that has never been done in the United States.
Newswatch 12 has been given exclusive access to that system. Monday, we’ll show you exactly how it works and why officials think it could be a model for your child’s school and the rest of the country.