By Matt Kane
DELANO The Delano Elementary School (DES) building got a lot safer in January, when District 879 had a new doorway system installed at the main entrance of the building.
Previously, there was nothing physically restricting anybody from entering and freely roaming the building. The new door system funnels visitors to the main office, where they must sign in and pick up a badge, which is color coded according to the purpose of the visit.
No longer can visitors simply walk through the doors and into the hallways, which occurred often in the past with those who did not know the process of visiting the school.
“Now, they are being stopped and they have to check in,” said DES Principal Darren Schuler.
Previously, signs on the doors were the only direction that a person must check in at the office before entering the main corridors of the building. Now, when school is in session, beginning at 8:10 a.m., locked doors physically prevent anyone, including school staff, from getting to the guts of the school without first passing through the office.
The new entryway system, which cost the district $10,000 to $15,000, was installed Jan. 21, when school was not in session. It consists of two panels of doors. The first set of doors, which open from the outside, remain unlocked, and open to a foyer. The second set of doors, which open from the foyer to the school are locked. Between the two sets of doors, on the right as a visitor walks into the school, is a single unlocked door that leads to the main office.
Both sets of doors do open from the inside to allow people to exit the building. Fire code requires this.
When entering the office, visitors will be asked their purpose for being in the building, and to follow the proper procedures for visiting the school.
“When people check in here, they have to have a purpose,” Schuler said.
The office staff monitors the visitor sign-in sheet throughout the day, and keeps tabs on who is still in the building. The staff is also trained to recognize and react to a suspicious visitor. If an individual is uncooperative, measures of how to handle the person are in place.
“Our office staff has seen a lot over the years and they know when it is getting to a point where it might be a little testy,” Schuler said. “Typically, it doesn’t get to that point, but we have the resources now to automatically lock down.”
The district practices five lockdown drills per year as part of state requirements. There is a full lockdown, which automatically locks all the doors in the building, for instances when an intruder might already be in the building, and a soft lockdown, which automatically locks the exterior doors to deny anybody from entering and exiting the building.
The two school buildings on the Delano campus went into live soft-lockdown mode on at least two occasions due to instances in the Delano community.
For visitors who already knew to sign in at the office at the start of every visit, the new security system doesn’t change much. For those not used to the new system, the new process, simply formalizes the old way.
“We’ve had some really positive comments. They realize that in this day and age, school safety is our number-one priority. Most have said, ‘Hey, we appreciate this. We know our kids are safe,’ We have had some very positive feedback,” Schuler said. “It’s an extra step for parents, but nonetheless, I think we can all sleep at night knowing it is a safer building.”
The forced check-in system takes little extra time for visitors, and will allow the elementary school to remain active with the volunteers and visitors it enjoys having.
“We’ve always encouraged volunteerism from everybody in the community and with that, we had an open building,” Schuler said. “We still have that, but now it is a much safer building for students and staff with this new entrance system.”
Parents and high school students are constantly visiting the school to volunteer or to work as a teacher’s aid.
Schuler insists safety for everybody who uses the school buildings is the number-one concern for a district. Recent school shootings often bring into question the issue of safety in schools.
“Since Sandy Hook, we all have taken a deeper look at keeping buildings safe. Student safety is our number-one priority, and parents entrust that to us. When parents drop off their kids in the morning, they really trust they are going to be safe,” Schuler said. “And, honestly, schools are one of the safest places for a kid to be. Unfortunately, there has been some instances, but we take a lot of pride in our safety.”
Both school buildings have security cameras. An updated digital system is being talked about as part of phase two of further securing the schools.
The installation of the secured entryway at the elementary school was part of the first phase of safety projects to be addressed by the district.
In August, just before the school year began, a system that allows office staff members to close and lock the doors in the commons areas of the three schools with a push of a button was installed.
New entryways for the middle school and high school, which shares an entrance with the Tiger Activity Center (TAC), are currently being discussed.
“I know that, from a district standpoint, they are looking at all the entrances in all the facilities and at how to improve them, because the other buildings have the same issue we had before we installed the new door,” Schuler said.
Schoen addressed the building that houses the middle school, high school, and TAC.
“We are in the midst of a full comprehensive study of the facilities. The priority of safety and security is at the top,” said Schoen. “Now, the entrance of the middle school, and high school and TAC are not secure.”
The original open designs of the entryways to all three of the schools in the district had to do with the philosophy Delano lived by, for its buildings to be welcoming places. That all changed in recent years.
“Schools are public buildings, so they are used all the time after school and weekends, too,” said Schoen. “We want to keep that philosophy that this is a taxpayers’ facility used by the community, but we have to balance that with the reality that the school district needs to take safeguards to protect the students, staff, and visitors who use our facilities.”
Schoen hopes to find the right balance to keep the buildings safe and inviting.
“We want to make sure we exhaust all efforts to make our schools safe. By the same token, we want to fulfill our mission that we are public schools and public facilities.”