Elementary Schools Beefing up Security After Newtown Tragedy
Despite budget challenges, local schools are looking for ways to improve security by talking to teachers and administrators.
As the survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary School return to class, elementary schools across Chicago are talking about safety. The school resumes classes Thursday after the Dec. 14 shooting spree that claimed the lives of 26 victims.
Principal Carmen Mendoza is upping security at McPherson Elementary School on Wolcott Avenue in response to the Newtown massacre. Her administrative team met the Monday after the shooting to form a better security plan.
The school will be conducting more drills but without trying to scare students, Mendoza said. Staff will be talking through all possible scenarios, such as what to do in an emergency when a child is in the bathroom.
"The only way to protect kids is through conversation," she said. "Security is a big concern for every administrator; we have precious things in here."
Chicago Public Schools is working to train security personnel on conflict resolution, and increase video surveillance.
CPS security employees go through annual training and in 2012, the district added security employees for 10 high schools and 19 elementary schools across the city.
Despite adding personnel, the annual school security budget suffered a $5 million cut this year. CPS Chief Safety and Security Officer Jadine Chou said the cut wouldn’t affect the 153 uniformed police officers assigned to schools.
McPherson has an unarmed security guard on staff that walks the building every hour, checking all doors and bathrooms. Both Mendoza and the assistant principals also walk the building.
Cameras survey every entrance, and a buzzer keeps people from walking directly through the main door. When Mendoza first learned of the shooting in Connecticut, she called the school engineer to make sure all doors were locked.
“At 3 p.m., every teacher and administrator was outside to keep a watchful eye on the kids for anything suspicious,” she said.
While the National Association of School Psychologists recommended parents discuss the shooting with their kids, Mendoza said most of the students understood what happened by the following Monday.
Mendoza, who has been the principal at McPherson for the past 12 years and worked in the building for the last 28, said she’s experienced only one security-related incident at the school. About 15 years ago, the school went on lockdown when the neighboring bank was robbed.
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