Washington County schools face expensive security upgrades

Nathan Baker • Aug 4, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Washington County schools need millions of dollars in upgrades to meet today’s security standards, Director of Schools Ron Dykes said Friday.

A recent survey of all county schools conducted by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and Safariland Security, identified several school security issues in nearly all of the district’s 15 schools.

The report, dealing with security vulnerabilities at several schools, is not available for public inspection, Dykes said, but he did speak in general terms about the nature of the suggestions contained in it.

“It included such things — depending upon the campus — such as additional fencing, perhaps entry gates, vehicle barriers ... as well as sally ports,” Dykes said Friday. “A sally port is sort of a narrowing of traffic flow, it funnels in from the entranceway directly to a reception area.”

The director said some of the district’s facilities, particularly Jonesborough and Boones Creek Elementary schools, were built decades ago without modern safety techniques in mind.

The Jonesborough school, with its circular design, features an open configuration, where many of the classrooms are separated only by partial partitions or, in some cases, by bookshelves.

An intruder in the building would be able to move relatively easily between classrooms by going around or over the dividers.

“The various construction that would be necessary to block off hallways create a confinement area of reception, some of those have been suggested,” Dykes said. “That would be a huge capital outlay, to change the internal structures of those buildings.”

He said a total price to perform all the recommended improvements has not been calculated, but said some of the costs have been estimated per foot and others are known independently. The needed changes would likely cost at least seven figures, he said.

Other changes recommended by the survey have already begun to be implemented, Dykes said, noting that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has requested funding for three additional school resource officers to patrol the hallways.

If approved, the new officers will bring the total number of security personnel in the schools to 10, including one permanently stationed in each high school and the rest assigned to move between campuses.

“The need for SROs in our schools cannot be understated,” Dykes said. “They provide students, staff members and parents with security and peace of mind.”

But the report didn’t only cite areas that need improvement, it also commended school staff and students on their training in recognizing threats, Dykes said.

“The people who conducted this survey mention that they were approached several times in different buildings by people who realized they were strange faces in the school,” he said. “They actually complimented the level of vigilance and concern in our schools.”

Dykes said Washington County schools have long been dedicated to student security, pointing out that it was the first district in the area to install video surveillance systems in all schools and the first to install electronic door locks controlled by an inside staff member.

“We will continue to uphold that level of safety at all of our buildings, and will be making more changes as funding becomes available,” he said. “The safety of our children is of utmost importance to us.”

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