When it comes to school safety, there’s a fine line between security and inconvenience.
The Bibb County district is finding that balance through new technologies and practices.
One of the latest projects is putting card readers into all the schools, an improvement from the old manual, buzz-in method. Each administrator, faculty or staff member will be registered individually and given a new badge that restricts access based on his or her credentials, said Jason Daniel, executive director of capital programs for the district.
Administrators have clearance to enter all buildings at all times, for example, while other staff members can get into their particular school only on weekdays during normal business hours. The system will allow officials to keep track of who is coming into the schools and set alerts for people who should not be there.
The digital verification systems are fully installed in 11 facilities, will be online in the middle schools soon, and should be in the remaining facilities by summer, Daniel said. The upgrades are being paid for with proceeds from an education sales tax initiative.
Special procedures also are in place for visitors. Many schools keep their main entrance locked, requiring visitors to press a buzzer and show identification before the door is opened. They must sign in at the front desk, provide a photo ID and state the purpose of their visit, said Keith Simmons, the district’s chief of staff.
“Our efforts are trying to take into account the size of our schools,” he said. “There’s a balance between security and inconvenience. This (allows) us to try to address maintaining that balance.
“We don’t want to become a burden. At the same time, we don’t want it to be a free-for-all.”
The goal is to have a secure stopping point with a physical barrier, Daniel said. Rutland High and Howard High are the only schools that don’t currently have this, and they will be addressed over summer break.
“Within the school property, we have peripheral surveillance systems that allow us to record footage in common areas,” Simmons said. “Classroom cameras we use two-fold, for both teacher growth and development as well as safety and security.”
The district has been updating perimeter cameras as needed on school properties, and there should be cameras in all Bibb classrooms by this spring. Teachers can use the classroom cameras to record their lessons for future review, and school security can be monitored through the devices’ 24/7 live feed.
But Bibb County doesn’t rely solely on technology to ensure school safety. The Campus Police Department is a big part of the job. Between 20 and 25 school resource officers are stationed in the middle and high schools, where they mentor students, provide traffic control and assist at athletic or extracurricular events, Simmons said.
They also patrol the feeder elementary schools in their zone. Additional officers do dispatch, surveillance and supervisory work at the schools.
The campus police chief investigator relocated to the Board of Education offices on Mulberry Street early last school year to help with security within the building and safety protocol and training at the schools. An additional officer eventually will be stationed in the lobby.
A larger security presence was needed for the building, due to its location downtown next to the federal court and its other tenants, which include Wells Fargo Bank and a Social Security Administration office, officials said. Previously, there was no one on site to help in the event of an altercation or emergency.
“We believe it’s a step in the right direction to protect the safety and well-being of the staff at the central office,” Simmons said.
In addition, the district has added situational training to its monthly leadership meetings. Attendees discuss how to handle real-world scenarios, such as a stranger coming onto campus or a parent without custody rights trying to take a child out of school. The goal, he said, is to prepare everyone to handle unplanned events.