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Sunday, December 21, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/6/2013

Monroe district beefs up security by adding guards, locking doors

Sandy Hook school shooting raises safety awareness

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Guard Jerry Lemanski greets children heading for their classrooms at Custer Elementary School in Monroe. ‘I think for par­ents, staff, and kids, it gives them peace of mind,’ Mr. Le­man­ski said. Guard Jerry Lemanski greets children heading for their classrooms at Custer Elementary School in Monroe. ‘I think for par­ents, staff, and kids, it gives them peace of mind,’ Mr. Le­man­ski said.
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MONROE — Jerry Lemanski’s no stranger to the halls of Monroe Public Schools. Most times, he’s walked into schools as a parent. But Thursday, at Custer Elementary School, was the first time he walked in wearing a guard’s uniform.

In the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that killed 20 children and six educators, schools in the area began reviews of their security procedures. Some have changed how they train staff, others are locking more doors, and others turned toward a more visible change.

The Monroe district, which already had unarmed guards and armed police at its high school and middle school, has added uniformed guards at each of its schools. All doors to schools are now locked throughout the school day, and visitors must show guards picture IDs to get inside.

The guards are a temporary measure, district spokesman Bobb Vergiels said, and will cost about $100,000 for the rest of the school year. Mr. Lemanski and his fellow guards are there specifically to watch the entrances; they won’t be patrolling parking lots or the halls.

A uniformed guard at an elementary school could be an imposing figure for children. Mr. Lemanski, though, said he had no complaints on his first day at Custer, and he’s trying to get to know the children.

“I think for parents, staff, and kids, it gives them peace of mind,” Mr. Lemanski said.

If a parent shows up without ID, he or she won’t be let into the school, and only adults on a student’s emergency contact list will be admitted. The district sent out messages to parents telling them about the change, and schools did follow-up calls.

Amy Walter went to Custer on Thursday to drop off lunch for her daughter. She said she didn’t feel intimidated by the guard and that she’s a fan of the extra layer of security.

“I think it’s excellent,” she said.

Other school districts also have placed personnel at their entrances, although not necessarily uniformed guards.

The Bedford Public Schools system has placed staff or parent volunteers at each school’s entrance. These new “greeters” will screen people entering the school and will ask them to show picture ID, Superintendent Jon White said. Entrance doors will now all be locked.

Paying for uniformed guards is not financially feasible for the district, and Mr. White said he wasn’t sure they were inherently better than having regular staff members watch entryways. “I want to make sure we get the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “[And] that it’s not just spending money on the problem but [what] remediates the problem.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, some local schools beefed up security because of concerns about threats to schools. The Washington Local system assigned added security officers before the winter break after concern circulated about Whitmer High School, district spokesman Wendy Farran said. A scare about a threat ended up being unfounded. Similar incidents plagued other local schools after Sandy Hook, prompting some schools to cancel classes early the week after the shooting.

Guard Jerry Lemanski checks the identification of a woman attempting to enter Custer Elementary. Monroe schools have added guards to every school to check visitor identification and control access to the locked main doors. Guard Jerry Lemanski checks the identification of a woman attempting to enter Custer Elementary. Monroe schools have added guards to every school to check visitor identification and control access to the locked main doors.
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“Social media clearly feeds the rumor frenzy in terms of volume, speed, and copycat messages,” Ms. Farran said.

Some area districts plan new training for staff that gives them options other than cowering under desks during emergencies. The Texas-based training, called ALICE — for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — has been put into effect at Sylvania and Oregon schools.

The Perrysburg district will train staff on either ALICE or a similar concept this spring, district spokesman Rachel Johnson said. The district is reviewing its entire security plan, Ms. Johnson said. Sylvania schools are doing a similar review, district spokesman Nancy Crandell said.

Some schools in the Catholic Diocese of Toledo are updating their security systems or having new systems installed, diocese spokesman Sally Oberski said. Law enforcement personnel have performed site visits at some schools to recommend security changes, and other schools have had or are planning ALICE training, she said.

School reviews have also led to parent action. Jason Huther, St. Joan of Arc School principal, sent a letter to parents after the Sandy Hook shootings, telling them that the school was reviewing its policies. That piqued the interest of parent Jamie Aurand, who owns Aurand and Associates Construction.

Mr. Aurand has a son at St. Joan of Arc, and he wanted to try to prevent a tragedy similar to Sandy Hook at the school. The events in Newtown struck especially close to home for him: His cousin has children at Sandy Hook Elementary who escaped the building.

“If something happened to any of those children [at St. Joan of Arc], I would be devastated,” he said.

Mr. Aurand volunteered to pay for a security camera system at St. Joan of Arc that will cover each entrance and the exterior of the South Toledo school. Work on the system, which will likely cost several thousand dollars, is expected to begin this weekend.

Mr. Aurand asked Tyler Schifferly of the Perrysburg company Design Entertainment to install the camera system, which will feed monitors in the school office. Mr. Schifferly said he was happy to help and to do the installation at no cost.

“[With the cameras], they can at least see something happening as soon as possible,” he said.

Aside from the cameras, Mr. Huther said, the school won’t be making any sweeping changes to security procedures.

He and several staff members will take an ALICE seminar to see if it’s a good fit. And he said he’s not a fan of adding guards at his school. It’s not the image he wants the school to present to students.

“Just that presence of having an armed guard outside a door,” he said, “I think speaks more negatively than it offers a benefit.”

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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