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After Newtown, District 200 Safety Committee Looks to Improve School Security

Monthly safety committee meeting discussion addresses safety procedures in place at District 200 schools and potential improvements.

After the , Wheaton officials in the District 200 safety committee have opened a conversation on how to improve and tighten school security.

District 200 Superintendent Dr. Brian Harris said the safety committee's focus earlier this month was the Sandy Hook shooting and potential changes in district schools, including upgrades to buzzer systems, entry cameras and visitor procedures.

Above all, though, he said, "Time is the main factor."

"Anything to slow an intruder down is always a good thing," Harris said. "In those circumstances, time is the main factor—time for first responders to get there, or for the school to react in an emergency. He (Wheaton Police Chief Mark Field) said anything we can do to put up additional barriers to slow someone in a crisis is beneficial.

"One strategy would be to make sure all buzzers are being used and reinforce staff—We're only as good as the procedures we have in place... and (to) make sure they (staff) know them."

Harris added the district is also just starting to investigate the option of installing silent buzzers, or a "panic button," which most schools do not yet have, and that the district's new wireless and voiceover IT systems in all schools would help with internal communication related to security issues.

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Other districts have held similar meetings with the horror of Newtown in mind. In should advance single-buzzer systems to double-buzzer systems at all schools, and have building secretaries perform criminal checks of visitors before entry. 

In Downers Grove, parents discovered shortly after the shooting that schoolhouse doors were unlocked and flooded the district with calls. The school district decided to lock the doors and install temporary buzzers while deciding on more permanent security upgrades. 

"(We) focused more on the time issue and not necessarily building a fort," Harris said.

All District 200 schools were originally designed—for safety purposes—to funnel people through a school's main office, said Harris. However, some entrances lead visitors directly through the main office and some go directly into the school. All schools' doors are locked at all times. The significance of adding a buzzer or changing protocol will vary depending on the school, he said.

The following schools do not have buzzers schools because visitors enter directly through the main office: Emerson, Franklin, Hawthorne, Lincoln, Longfellow, Madison, Monroe, SSC, Wiesbrook, WWSHS and WNHS. 

The following schools do have buzzers because visitors enter the school without going through the office: Johnson, Pleasant Hill, Sandburg, Washington, Edison, Hubble, Jefferson, Bower and Whittier.

Wheaton Police Chief Mark Field said last month that officers continued their high police presence near schools following the Newtown shooting, as always.

He said officers are evaluated annually about how much time they spend in and around the schools to ensure safety and enforce traffic laws.

"It's a high priority already."

He did encourage parents should talk to school principals, assistant principals and deans to make sure safety protocols are followed and practiced, and talk to their kids about taking safety rules seriously. 

The safety committee made no decisions at the "first of several" meetings that would take place over the next few months, Harris said. 

"I anticipate over the next few months we'll build into the budget (for improvements), in addition to what we already have."

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