School site staff recommended to lock doors and limit who enters campus
The Saugus Union School District recommended school staff at each of its 15 sites lock the front gates and look into purchasing camera/buzzer systems after engaging with the parent community in numerous ways in the past month.
In July, the Saugus district gave an overview of its safety systems and programs, both “hard” safety tools such as locking systems, gates and other methods, and “soft” safety tools such as mental health supports, threat assessments and more.
During a presentation to the district board in July, it was mentioned district leadership had heard from less than 1% of 13,000 parents, and of those, the district received conflicting requests: Some parents wanted the schools to lock the office doors and secure access to the campus each morning, while some suggested schools should leave the office doors unlocked and implement an open campus morning arrival procedure.
Since the presentation in July, district staff conducted outreach to parents by phone and staff also initiated an online poll to receive further parent input as it was deemed this topic would be important to parents.
“One of the things that we need to remember is everybody’s concerned about their students through COVID, and everyone was concerned with the safety before we went into COVID-19 because what our community experienced with the Saugus High shooting,” Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said.
The district sent a post to all parents through Parent Square, an application for communication with parents, with an account of the student safety presentation from July, which included links to the presentation slides, video of the presentation and research links used in creating their safety protocols.
“Then what happened in Uvalde, Texas, happened and I think it brought safety concerns front of mind again,” Hawkins said. “We’re seeing a lot of challenges around a lot of fear, and a lot of need of peace of mind.”
The poll asked parents: What do community partners desire to keep schools safe?
According to the poll presentation in Tuesday’s board meeting, parents were given two answers to choose from: “Lock front office doors during the day, include a buzzer and camera system for entry, and restrict entry to students and staff at the start/end of the school day. Parent volunteers will need to check in at the office before entering campus,” or, “Unlock front office doors during the day, security locks remain in place if lockdown emergency needed, and allow community access to school campus or classrooms during morning arrival and dismissal.”
According to district officials, of the 13,000 parents in the district, approximately 30% responded to the poll. Of that percentage, the majority of respondents supported locking office doors and securing school campus perimeters during arrival and dismissal.
When it came to installing and purchasing the “best locking system around,” the district made a decision based on what safety experts said, and “it works amazingly well,” Hawkins said.
“When it came to single point of entry, or gates, or perimeter fences, we all use all those resources and all of those recommendations from the experts,” Hawkins said. “But when it came to the issue of locking the campus door, or the morning and afternoon dismissal access to the campus, that’s where it was getting a little shaky.”
“This was an opportunity to truly engage 13,000 people whose best interest of their kids was at heart, and have them be involved,” Hawkins said.
In addition, Hawkins reiterated this was a recommendation for locking the front door gates and limiting who enters the campus at arrival and dismissal times, and classroom doors “must be closed at all time, that’s not an option.”
Governing board members agreed to give directions to school site staff to lock the front doors as soon as possible, and where it’s not practical, then for staff to take other measures.
District staff also noted some of their school sites already have camera or buzzer systems in place as a safety tool because they were designed like that from the start, but moving forward, staff will be looking into implementing or updating new systems at each of the sites.
According to Hawkins, the “airphone,” or camera/buzzer systems, will cost on the low end of $60,000 to the higher end of $80,000. The district will continue to research more on this type of equipment.
The district’s maintenance and operations staff are currently and will continue to install airphone systems as the district purchases them, according to district officials.
“It is a fact that parents are welcome on campus as parent volunteers are being sought. And if they belong there, they’ll be let in,” said Katherine Cooper, governing board member. “It’s just a short delay. Parents are definitely welcome and that locked door doesn’t change that.”