YORK COUNTY — Education leaders in York and Clover are making plans to strengthen school security that include more numerous and higher quality video cameras, revamped school entrance areas and stricter standards.
Some of the security improvements have been in the works for a year or more, leaders say, although others have resulted from a review of safety practices that followed the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., when 20 children and six adults were shot and killed.
“We have raised the urgency level, as has every school in the country,” Clover Superintendent Marc Sosne told school board members during a recent discussion on security. “We now think about and talk about security issues every day.”
York Superintendent Vernon Prosser said the York district also has been evaluating and strengthening its security practices. “We’ve really done some things to enhance security,” he said.
Sosne said Clover leaders had already been working on architectural plans to establish more secure entrances at three schools — Clover Middle and Griggs Road and Bethany elementary schools.
Sosne said new, secure entrances at the three schools will be complete over the summer. When school begins in August, Sosne said, visitors will have to be buzzed into each school through the front office.
Newer schools are built with those buzz-in entrances, Sosne said. He also said secure entrance areas were created during renovations at Clover High School and at Kinard and Bethany elementaries a few years ago.
“We also have had a number of consultants look at our schools, or are in the process of looking at schools” to offer suggestions on security, Sosne said. They include Clover police, an insurance company consultant, a local Secret Service agent and a representative from the Catawba Nuclear Plant, he said.
Both the York and Clover school districts have within the past year replaced the security cameras on school buses with new systems that provide higher quality images and sound.
“We went to a newer digital system in 2012,” said York Assistant Superintendent Matt Brown. “It provides us with a lot better quality pictures and sound, and we’re able to increase the camera angles on the bus.”
In addition, security cameras in York and Clover schools also are being evaluated or replaced.
Sosne said the Clover district is spending about $540,000 to upgrade security cameras in all its schools. The upgrades began in 2012 at four schools, he said, and will be complete this year at six other sites.
“We feel like it’s critically important to finish that work,” Clover Assistant Superintendent Sheila Huckabee told board members. The older cameras have lower-quality images, she said.
Said Sosne: “The new cameras provide very sharp resolution, and they will make it much easier for us to identify people who are at inappropriate places at inappropriate times.” He also said Clover is making sure it has cameras on the exterior of its buildings.
Brown said York has been evaluating its school security cameras and may be enhancing its use of video in some key places. “There may be some school access points where we put cameras, so when people key in, we also see a visual from that standpoint,” Brown said.
Prosser said security is being assessed at school perimeter areas, such as parking lots and lawn and playground areas. “That’s your key to school security, is controlling your perimeters, and controlling access to your campus.”
He said the district has tightened up some of its practices, for example, by establishing a common language for lockdown. It also has made it standard procedure for employees to have their badges visible, and mandated that classroom doors be locked during classes, he said.
Brown said York also has been working more closely with law enforcement officials. “We’re trying to improve our dialogue with law enforcement, in order to better serve each other,” he said.
Sosne said some of the consultants on security in Clover have made helpful suggestions. For example, he said, blinds were recommended for some classrooms that have big banks of windows without window coverings.
At Larne Elementary, Sosne said, the staff devised a system to cover classroom door windows using Velcro and black fabric that can be rolled down over the window during a lockdown.
He also said that over the summer, the district will be installing lighting under covered walkways that it’s installing. At night, he said, the lighted walkways will be more secure.