By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The school district has launched a $105,000 plan to improve school security in response to parents’ concerns following the murder of 26 people at a Connecticut school.
School Superintendent Michael Delahanty said Friday initial work has begun to upgrade Salem High School, Woodbury School, and Soule, Fiske and Haigh elementary schools.
Buzzers, monitors, cameras, intercoms and other security equipment will soon be installed, Delahanty said. A security company crew has been visiting the schools to plan the installation.
In addition, the School Board last week adopted a new policy for visitors to the district’s eight schools. Once the upgrades are complete in about a month, guests will no longer be able to just walk through the front entrance, Delahanty said.
As they stand in the entranceway, visitors will be asked their names and reason for coming to the school. They will have to speak through an intercom system and wait to be buzzed in. Side doors are already locked.
Delahanty said parents will be given about two weeks notice before the new visitor policy begins.
The work is being done to protect students and staff from the type of massacre that occurred Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, where gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six adults before killing himself. He shot and killed his mother earlier in the day.
The work is being done in response to parents’ concerns that the aging school buildings do not provide enough safety for their children. The schools are all more than 50 years old.
Nearly 100 residents turned out for a public forum on school security in January. Close to two dozen people expressed concern or questioned school officials about safety procedures.
“The message was clear that folks thought we could use more security,” Delahanty said.
While the improvements won’t prevent incidents such as the Sandy Hook shootings, they will minimize the danger, according to Delahanty and Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten.
Delahanty said many parents appreciate the district’s improvements. But he also said it’s going to be a big change for some, especially those who have had children in the school system for at least a decade.
“It’s going to be very different and some people may be offended,” he said.
The work also calls for the installation of panic buttons in the main offices and equipping those offices with police radios. A security card system will be installed.
In some of those offices, it’s difficult for main office personnel to see who is entering the building.
Fisk School principal George Murray said parents welcome the improvements at the school. They were unanimously approved by the School Board two months ago.
“Our Fisk community is supportive of the board’s decision,” he said.
Similar improvements were made to Barron, Lancaster and North Salem elementary schools when they were renovated two years ago.
But Delahanty has said some of those measures, such as locking the main entrances, were not implemented because they would have changed “the school culture.”