Arkansas City Public School officials are taking a hard look at school security in the wake of the Florida school shooting and the arrest of a student last month for allegedly making a criminal threat against the school.
The board discussed security during its regular meeting on Monday, and took steps toward bringing back a daytime security guard that would monitor the perimeter of the high school building.
Dr. Ron Ballard, superintendent, said the school currently has strong security procedures in place. He said those measures include a lock system and a video surveillance system. Both are in place at all school buildings.
The middle school and high school also have an armed School Resource Officer, (SRO) on staff. But he believes additional security measures need to be considered and can be easily implemented.
The high school has night-time security and once had an additional employee who provided daytime security to the property. That position was eliminated eight years to cut costs. Ballard hopes to reinstate the job so an individual can monitor activity around the school perimeter and parking lot.
“Having a person out in the parking lot is a wonderful deterrent,” he said. “It’s a deterrent for anybody coming on the parking lot that shouldn’t be there, and frankly, it’s a deterrent for kids who might want to be exiting the building.”
The person would not be armed and would not take a combative role, he said. The primary function would be to monitor the coming and going of students and other visitors to the school.
All threatening situations would be referred to the school SRO or to 911.
“We’re talking about someone who would work well with kids, being friendly and not blatant,” he said. “We need to know why a student is out there and what they are doing when school is going on.”
Jon Oak, board chair, agreed with Ballard.
“We need to get the daytime security person back,” he said. “We need to do whatever we can to keep things safe.”
Board member Marty Moulton suggested a first step might be to place more control on building access.
He said the heavy student traffic would likely be more than one person could oversee.
“You have more kids coming out the side by the gym than you do out the front,” he said. “When you’ve got that many kids, you can’t just have one guy.”
Board member Lori Barnes agreed, saying the school should set more boundaries and place more control on the student’s ability to come and go as they please.
She also believes the parking lot security patrol is a positive and necessary move.
“I think there has to be something out there so the kids know they can’t just go out to their car and get something, “ she said. “I think somebody patrolling and asking some questions is the right thing to do.”
Ballard said his recent visit to the high school made him aware of another problem area. As he approached the locked entry door, a student opened the door and invited him in.
“Our kids are too polite,” he said. “They only meant one thing, to be friendly and accommodating, but that’s a concern.”
Ballard said administration would need to work with the student body to make sure they are not giving access to those who should not enter the building.
He added that it is a “tough combination” to have an open and friendly building and at the same time be able to guarantee safety.
The district’s vision is to get people in and out through the front doors and minimize usage of the other doors, a move designed to increase safety, he added.
The costs involved to add the new position would not be overwhelming, Ballard said, and it was also possible the state and federal government might fund part of the expense.
District staff will develop a job description of the daytime security guard and establish a salary range. The position would be brought back for the board to review and approve.
The proposal would also include the construction of a modest shelter at the parking lot entryway as well as a small vehicle for patrolling the grounds.
“We can improve what we’re doing and we can even make slight changes in our budget this late in the year, “ he said. “I feel like it’s time for us to get someone in this position.”
On Feb. 16, Ark City police arrested a 15-year-old high school student on suspicion of making a criminal threat when officers were informed that he made comments that he hated everybody and was going to shoot up the school, according to a press release at the time.
County attorney Larry Schwartz has said he plans to file charges against the student.
Last week, police were sent to the middle school to investigate rumors of a threat there and some parents took their children out of the school.
Police said on Monday there was no credible threat but the investigation into the incident was still going.
Ballard referred to the middle school incident at the board meeting Monday. He said the student that other kids voiced concern about was home sick with the flu and “there wasn’t anything there” as far as a threat.
He added that he observed how information can get exaggerated, telling the board that he was in the building when he heard somebody on their cell phone say “we’ve got police all over here and it’s a mess.”
But there were only two police officers, Ballard said, and “there was no such thing” as the caller described.