Area school districts share plans for increased safety for back to school

·3 min read

School safety is top of mind, as 30 school districts kicked off the new school year Monday.

We’re seeing even more security added this year at area schools.

That’s because of how the last school year ended with the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

But as layers of security continue to expand, administrators say they also need to make sure it doesn’t affect how students learn.

Channel 11 news anchor Gordon Loesch talked to school leaders about how they make those decisions.

Michelle Miller is going into her second year as superintendent in the South Fayette School District. She’s already part of new changes to school security.

“Our focus of course is learning, but we can’t do that if our families and our students and our staff don’t feel safe,” Miller said.

After the Uvalde school shooting, Miller said they reached out to their teachers.

“They’re in the classrooms, and their perspective is so key,” she said.

With COVID-19 affecting large gatherings, they realized there had been a pause on a lot of security training, so that’s coming back in a big way.

“That will be the biggest change to make sure we revisit all of the trainings, but really in a hands-on approach,” Miller explained.

Dennis Chakey is the assistant superintendent in the Gateway School District.

“We were one of the first districts to have our own school police,” he said.

This year, they’ve added more cameras to cover blind spots and after consulting with a state police risk assessment team, they’re now locking and closing all classroom doors at all times.

“They have actual video evidence of school shooter walking down hallways, checking locked doors. When a door is locked, they move on,” Chakey said.

As leaders look for ways to harden schools, it highlights how far schools have already come.

“Yes it’s an inconvenience for staff members to always get up and lock a door, or always let a kid in, but the other side of that, it far outweighs,” Chakey said.

A federal survey shows there have been sharp increases in nearly all security measures in the last two decades.

97% of U.S. schools now have controlled access to buildings.

91% have surveillance cameras.

65% have at least one security officer.

Administrators we talked to say the most important measure is their teachers, bus drivers and other day-to-day staff.

“It really comes down to those relationships,” Miller said. “That’s the most important thing, when we know our families, we know when something is off with a student and we can call upon them and ask how we can help and be a resource.”

As schools become more characterized by security -- how do school leaders ensure the need for safety doesn’t interfere with education?

“I think you have to use your own professional judgment. There are certain things we have to enforce because there are strict consequences,” Chakey said.

“I feel that we focus so much on the learning that the other is behind the scenes,” Miller said. “But we do have our security officers and SRO (school resource officer) being a present, because it does build that confidence that they’re somebody here who is there to support you and protect you at all times.”

Stay with Channel 11 News as we continue our back-to-school coverage.

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