Central Illinois schools explain security procedures
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NORMAL -- A visitor entering most local schools must press a push a buzzer near the door and receive clearance before being allowed inside.
That basic precaution and other security measures, including cameras in schools, and whether they are enough are on the minds of school officials in the aftermath of the mass slayings Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. On Monday, the first school day after the tragedy, many school officials were updating parents on how students are kept safe.
Security is a priority for schools every day, but "when a tragedy takes place as in Connecticut, we always look at these things and ask, 'Are we missing something?' said Tri-Valley Superintendent Curt Simonson, whose schools have such secured-entry systems. "We stay on it."
"We will continue to review our emergency plans and are always considering measures to increase security and safety," echoed Mike Lootens, principal at Normal's Epiphany Catholic School, in a message sent to parents Monday.
Many local schools, including McLean County Unit 5 buildings, University High School in Normal and other Catholic schools, sent similar emails to parents outlining the security measures in place at those schools, offering resources for parents needing help talking to their children, and including any updates that are being made to their security systems.
Changes are ongoing.
Interior door locks are being installed in classroom doors at Northpoint and Parkside elementary schools in Unit 5. "They should be done by Jan. 15," said Superintendent Gary Niehaus, adding, "Unit 5 has worked with food service, custodians and maintenance to keep all doors locked throughout the school day."
Other schools in the Normal-based district already received the door locks as part of a districtwide program of school construction and updates launched by a 2008 bond referendum.
Unit 5 recently completed a major re-evaluation of its security systems following the Sept. 7 gunfire incident involving a student who fired shots in his classroom. The boy was subdued by his teacher and fellow students and no one was injured.
The district has acquired a new emergency radio system, held crisis drills, updated crisis plans and evacuation sites and created one-page crisis plan documents that are easier to use.
At the district's two high schools, a visitor in the reception area must enter a closed glass booth, show identification to the receptionist and confirm his or her destination before being allowed to enter a building.
Bloomington District 87's elementary school and Bloomington Junior High School also have secured, locked entrances. That's not deemed feasible at Bloomington High School, however, because of how the building is configured, but there is a monitor at each door, said district Superintendent Barry Reilly.
Likewise, all give Olympia schools in rural Stanford, Danvers, Minier and Atlanta have locked entrances, cameras and intercoms, said Superintendent Brad Hutchison. This is the sixth year the district has had school resource officers from the McLean County Sheriff's Department in the buildings.
Unit 5 and District 87 also have such officers from the Normal and Bloomington police departments on their campuses.
"People working together -- that's how we keep a campus as safe as possible," Hutchison said.
While some have suggested using bulletproof glass as an added security measure, school officials have said that would be too expensive.
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