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Published: Wednesday, 12/27/2006

Bedford schools eye boost in security

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Following Bedford Public Schools' recent initiatives to tighten up security, its high school is fielding bids to buy and mount video-surveillance cameras in its hallways and cafeteria.

With the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old girl in September at a Bailey, Colo., high school and the October killings at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, schools have been increasing attention on security.

And in the most recent Bedford school newsletter, Superintendent Jon White focused on safety as one of the cornerstones of a good education. "All too often since the horrifying incident at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., we have been made aware of the vulnerability of our children and our schools," he wrote. "We are cognizant that when addressing school safety, we must always be proactive and vigilant."

Since October, the district has been more vigilant about requiring visitors to obtain passes. "It's simply increasing awareness, having everyone [who is] in the building question anyone that isn't recognizable," said Ted Magrum, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

The board also has asked its district liaison officers to patrol all buildings on a more regular basis.

And high school Principal Dennis Caldwell is hoping to add surveillance there by the end of the school year. "It's both for safety and security and as a deterrent against vandalism and theft," Mr. Caldwell said. "When our schools were built 45 years ago, terrorism wasn't a thought in people's mind. Schools always were a safe heaven for people, but now they have become a soft target. We are just trying to keep up with the times."

He said based on previous bids, the price for equipment and installation would be about $30,000, but he plans to send out new bid requests in the new year for updated costs.

"It would be paid for from money that the high school accumulated over past three or four years, which they haven't spent and so has carried over," Mr. Magrum said.

Mr. Caldwell said if the cameras deter vandalism, it could save money on repair costs. "When we currently have vandalism, we have to buy new lockers or fix them up and use our maintenance workers' time when they could be working on something else," he said. "If these cameras are approved by the board, then perhaps they could be installed as early as spring break."

They would be installed in the corners of hallways and around entrances and exits, in areas that are vulnerable to intruders or to vandalism, he said. A 360-degree camera may be installed in the center of the cafeteria. "It's a camera that takes a picture of everything at once. It's amazing," Mr. Caldwell said.

No one would monitor the cameras' feed fulltime, but the footage would be recorded so authorized staff could later view the tapes if anything occurred. Liaison officers and other authorized personnel would likely be able to access the footage online, Mr. Caldwell said.

This means that the liaison officers could observe what's going on inside the school despite being outside the building.

While Mr. White said he is "reluctant to talk about safety precautions" because it could jeopardize security, he said the district has been making strides. The district has increased the liaison officers' presence in its elementary schools. Last month, it also received public alert radios for each of its buildings through a Homeland Security grant. These radios will alert school officials to any severe weather conditions on the horizon.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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