After Connecticut school shooting, Minnesota districts boost security

Visitors check in
Visitors to Olson Middle School in Bloomington check in at the main office before entering the school. In the future, visitors will also have their IDs scanned and cross checked with a national law enforcement database. District officials are planning for security upgrades at all Bloomington schools.
Tim Post/MPR News

A year after gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six adult staff members in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, some Minnesota schools are starting to look at a security in new ways.

The measures vary from district to district, depending on the availability of resources. Some have added new alarms, classroom door locks and security cameras. Some have considered hiring new police officers and security guards.

• Related: One year after Newtown shootings, still no answer to 'why'

Visitors to the Bloomington school district's buildings find different security procedures depending on which buildings they enter.

At Olson Middle School, for example, the entry doors are locked, requiring visitors to check in at the main office.

But in many other buildings, where the honor system rules, a sign asks visitors to check in after they've already entered the school.

The district's security upgrades will include locked vestibules that funnel visitors into the main office. They'll need to present an ID which will be scanned and cross-checked with a national law enforcement database.

The Bloomington district's decision to boost security is welcomed by some residents.

"I have been through lockdowns in a school that I work in and have been through threats," said parent Michele Bedor. "So I know what it feels like to be in those scary situations. I'm all for whatever we can do to keep kids safe."

Besides the new visitors policy, color coded strobe lights will be installed throughout the school to alert students and staff to any emergencies. Main school offices will be equipped with a panic button.

"When situations arise the staff person can press that button and that activates all the fire doors," said Rick Kaufman, who directs the district's emergency management plans. "All the fire doors closed creates a significant barrier to anyone now getting into the school."

Kaufman, who was in charge of communications at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., when two students killed 13 people and themselves in 1999, admits the new security measures will give school buildings a locked-down feel.

"Schools are wrestling with balancing the welcoming environment with these kind of safety measures that even five years ago people would have not been embracing," Kaufman said. "Because it does create the feeling of a fortress-like facility."

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, schools across the state have struggled with just how much security to put in place.

The state Department of Public Safety estimates 700 to 800 school resource officers work in Minnesota; 70 percent of them are in the Twin Cities metro area.

A big question for districts has been how to pay for the changes.

In Bloomington, the district will spend nearly $7 million on security upgrades paid for through a 10-year, $60 million capital levy approved by taxpayers in the fall.

A handful of districts across the state put similar levies on the ballot to cover the cost of security upgrades.

That doesn't sit right with Scott Croonquist, the head of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

"We really shouldn't have to rely on operating referendum or a technology or a capital projects referendum to do that," Croonquist said. "That really needs to be a reliable and sustainable source of funding that the state provides."

The state has provided some funding for schools to implement security improvements. Lawmakers increased the school safety levy, a per-pupil fund, by $6 to $36. That gave schools $5 million more this year to spend on security or other building improvements.

State lawmakers also re-established the Minnesota School Safety Center within the Department of Public Safety at a cost of more than $400,000 a year. The center was started in 2007, but closed a few years later because of budget cuts.

Nancy Lageson, hired in August to direct the reopened center, is taking lots of calls from superintendents and local law enforcement officials who are looking for advice on school security.

"I imagine what Sandy Hook did is just make everyone look at their own individual emergency crisis plans and they are trying to figure out the best way to keep that from happening in their schools," she said.

In the coming months, Lageson said, the School Safety Center will begin holding training sessions across the state to help school officials learn how to prevent and react to school violence.

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