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District moves to bolster school safety

Staff Writer

School safety remained a major topic of discussion for the Archuleta School District Board of Education Tuesday when transportation director Dolly Martin presented board members with a report by San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) School Safety Coordinator Kathleen Morris following a Jan. 3 walk-through inspection of local facilities.

“We do not believe that a 10-minute ‘walk-through’ of a school can solely identify the security needs and appropriate practices needed to improve school security,” Morris’ report began. “We do believe that this report is a starting point as we move towards a more comprehensive school site safety and security assessment.”

The assessment team that participated in the Jan. 3 walk-through included Martin and Morris, as well as Superintendent Mark DeVoti, Pagosa Springs police officer Floyd Capistrant, ASD Facilities Director Steve Voorhis, ASD Finance Director Janell Wood, Fire Marshal Joel M. (Manny) Trujillo from the Pagosa Fire Protection District, Archuleta County Emergency Manager Drew Peterson and his assistant, Christina Marquart, and two representatives from the Colorado School District Self Insurance Pool — David Sullivan and Nancy Miller.

“We understand that educators wish to take a balanced, rational approach to improving security,” the report states, “without adopting a knee-jerk, siege-like mentality. In conducting this assessment, we approached each campus with the understanding that each campus has its own unique safety needs.

“We also know that we can no longer look upon school safety as a grant-funded ‘luxury’ that can only be addressed proactively if funded through grant money. Time and time again, lessons have taught us that school safety is a ‘pay now or pay later’ situation, with it being better to pay a reasonable amount proactively up-front versus having significant recovery costs, lawsuit losses, and long-term damage to your school-community relations if you wait until after a crisis occurs. School security assessments help you to be proactive, not reactive.”

“We discussed safety in our district,” Martin told the board, “and recognized that we have a safety plan in place already, yet it still remains that we need more awareness and training for staff and students as far as safety is concerned. We all recognized that communication, or lack of it, is one of our most important details in working together as a team.”

Martin then described in general terms the problems discovered by the assessment team and the recommendations contained in Morris’ report, which was divided into four sections, one for each school building.

For Pagosa Springs High School, the report pointed out, “The front doors are new to the building since the holiday break. The immediate interior vestibule is open. Both sets of doors have the capacity to lock. The administration office location does not appear to be in line-of-site to the front entryway.”

It then made the following recommendations: Enclose the ceiling area within the first and second set of entryway doors to create a closed vestibule. Coat all the windows with tinted film (at the main entry door location-cafeteria). Re-locate administrative staff with a direct line-of-site to the entryway. Install a video buzz and magnetic keycard entry system (at front doors only, at each building on this campus).

Besides these capital improvements, the report also recommended creating a policy to address exterior doors that get blocked open by rocks or wood wedges, as well as a policy to address unattended rooms left unlocked.

For the two buildings on the Pagosa Springs Middle School campus, the report stated, “While it was noted that this campus does have a video surveillance system and notices clearly displayed on the front doors for visitors to sign in, there were concerns of how the cameras were monitored (by whom and how often), and then are all visitors signing in? These will be areas of continued assessment. Talking and working with the staff will be imperative.

“The entryway into the 7th-8th grade building provides the administration a good visual to the front doors, although there is easy access to the students and staff from this area via the hallway to the right of entry as well as the open door to the library from the front entryway. Without talking to the administrative staff, it was difficult to know how visitors are greeted and accounted for.

“The entry way into the 5th-6th grade building is not staffed with any administrative staff; students access classrooms directly.

“Classrooms on the second floor of the 5th-6th grade building are exposed to street-level vision. In a lockdown scenario, this could jeopardize students and staff.”

Similar to the high school, the report made recommendations to install a keycard entry system for the front doors, to put tinting on the exterior windows, and enact a policy concerning unlocked rooms and doors that are blocked by rocks and wood wedges.

The last section of the report deals with Pagosa Springs Elementary School, and noted a, “Nice large yellow sign welcoming visitors to ‘register’ at the office.” However, it also described, “Line-of-site to the front entryway appears to be partially blocked by curtains and posters. The display case is also blocking line-of-site to the entryway.”

Besides the recommendations mentioned above for the other two campuses, the report also recommended changing the sign on the front door to tell visitors to “sign in” instead of “register” and to remove the display case and all of the posters so the front door can be seen from the office.

Tomorrow, Colorado State Sen. Steve King will host a school safety summit in Denver to discuss the issue and work on legislation that will create funding for Safety Resource Officers (SROs) — trained police officers, paid by the local police department, who are assigned to a school building.

“I am proud to announce that Chief Bill Rockensock and Undersheriff Rich Valdez from our community will be attending that,” Martin told the board. “Archuleta County used to have SROs and it was in the police budget years ago, but they dropped it because of budget cuts. Who knows? Maybe that will be something that can come from it.”

“There are a lot of things that are being looked at nationally,” DeVoti said, referring to the aftermath created by the school shooting in Connecticut last month, “and we need to look at them, as well, not just if we are lucky enough to get a School Resource Officer. What are the internal things that we could be doing?”

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on January 17, 2013.