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Clinton Township, Macomb Township

Door buzzers, security cameras operational at Chippewa schools

September 25, 2013

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Security improvements that Chippewa Valley Schools began installing over the summer at 18 school buildings are now fully up and running.

The safety upgrades include door buzzers and surveillance cameras at the main entrances to all 12 of the district’s elementary schools and all four of its middle schools, as well as at the Little Turtle Early Childhood Center and Mohegan High School, an alternative-education facility. Superintendent Ron Roberts and other district officials have stated that these changes were developed directly in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.

According to Diane Blain, director of school and community relations for Chippewa Valley Schools, “The events last year at Sandy Hook were very disturbing to all of us, so we decided to take a close look at our existing security measures. I think we’ve always had safe schools, but this was a way for us to try to maintain and enhance that safety.”

School Board President Denise Aquino said she believes that these changes were “the next logical step” in making the district’s schools more secure in a post-Sandy Hook world.

“I think this was a really good, cost-effective solution for us,” she said, “because we were able to add to what we already had in place. This is just one more checkpoint that people have to go through. I’ve been to other districts that have implemented this type of system, and they all told me that it’s been very effective for them.”

The security project was approved by the Board of Education in May at a cost of about $47,000. It was installed over the last few months, along with more than $1.1 million in district-wide technology upgrades, which were part of the $89 million capital improvement bond extension that district voters approved in February 2010.

According to Director of Technology Craig McBain, the door buzzers and security cameras go hand in hand with a bond-funded project to replace the outdated phone system at every school building. This equipment includes about 2,100 Internet Protocol (IP) phones that offer an enhanced 911 early-response system, superior internal messaging, and video screens for live chatting and conferencing.

Visitors to a school must push the button outside the front door, which will alert office staff to their arrival. They will need to state their name and the purpose of their visit; they may also be asked to show a driver’s license or other approved identification. The office staff will then welcome them inside and allow them to check in at the main office.

All school doors will be locked when students are in class, Blain explained. The doors will only be open for student arrival and dismissal, as well as for day/evening programs and special events.

“This is a really transparent change for our students because the other building doors were already locked during the school day anyway,” Blain said. “No safety measure is ever completely foolproof — we know that — but this is a great way to make sure that we know who’s going in and out of our schools throughout the day.”

Roberts pointed out that while this system will create a safer environment during regular school hours, it will also help improve security for the district’s latchkey programs before and after school. The equipment was not installed at the district’s high-school buildings or ninth-grade centers, he noted, because those facilities already have security guards in the parking lots and check-in stations at the main entrances.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, the district began using its pool of substitute teachers as uniformed greeters at every school building. A month later, Chippewa Valley administration announced that it was hiring unarmed security guards to protect the entrances to all of its schools for the remainder of the school year. The district also began prohibiting parents from entering school buildings with their children at the beginning and end of the day.

However, these changes upset some parents, who felt that the increased security was an overreaction that was causing anxiety among their children and creating an unwelcome barrier between students and parents. By installing door buzzers and surveillance cameras, Roberts said, district officials were seeking a less intrusive means of boosting security that would not make their schools feel like prisons, or otherwise distract students from getting an education.

Now, with the new technology in place, the district is no longer using security greeters at its schools. Like Roberts, Aquino feels that the current system will create a less obtrusive atmosphere for students, parents and guests.

“We want a welcoming school environment but also a safe one,” she said. “I like the fact that this system is very consistent from one school to the next; it’s the same process at every building. I think it reassures people that we are keeping track of everyone who’s coming and going while school is in session.”

Blain agreed, noting that at this point, people are already well acquainted with these types of security measures, as most workplaces utilize something similar.

“For us, I think it was just a matter of educating and informing our parents about what we were doing,” she said. “They’ve been very understanding, accommodating and receptive to this new system — I really haven’t heard any complaints about it. I think that as the months go on, this will just become part of everyone’s daily routine.”

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