School safety still a hot topic

Idaho schools are hiring armed guards, more resource officers and beefing up surveillance and lockdown features. It’s starting out to be a busy summer for school leaders.

While students enjoy the break, trustees and superintendents will be considering ways to both introduce and fund heightened safety measures in the age of mass school shootings.

School safety has emerged as a major topic — both locally and nationally — in the wake of more school massacres. Idaho Ed News has reported on a range of enhanced safety protocols since the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., massacre, which left 17 students dead and sent a political shockwave across the country.

At the heels of another major school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, last month, and amid an unusual spike in local threats, some Idaho school leaders are discussing school safety into the summer months in efforts to protect kids next school year.

State and local leaders extend school-safety push into summer

Some school-safety measures have recently surfaced at the state level, including a new law designed to clamp down on school threats.

Plus, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra is continuing her push to fund a $21 million statewide school safety initiative. Parents can now participate in a public survey detailing the safety plan, which Ybarra has said she will seek funding for in 2019, provided she is re-elected in November.

North Idaho’s Lakeland School District is not waiting for added grant funding to boost armed security presence in its schools. Last month, the district announced plans to hire an armed guard for its Athol Elementary School. Lakeland administrators say the hire is a likely precursor to 11 other armed guards to be stationed at other schools throughout the district. The $42,000 for the first hire will come from a two-year, $17.98 million supplemental levy voters approved in March 2017, Lakeland leaders say.

Lakeland will remove gun-free zone signs at the school, and replace them with signs that say armed personnel are on the premises.

The much smaller Garden Valley and Horseshoe Bend districts are planning to increase security by budgeting for full-time, instead of part-time, school resource officers next school year, according to the Boise County Connection.

Large districts in East Idaho are emphasizing infrastructural improvements this summer, with the Idaho Falls school district mulling a $1 million plan to install electronically controlled entrances at all of the district’s schools. The district, which recently decided to put a $99.5 million bond issue for major school upgrades on the August ballot, is considering funding the upgrades with reserve funds.

Roughly 50 miles south of Idaho Falls, the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District will this summer collect and evaluate data compiled during a recent security pilot program at its Gate City, Indian Hills and Syringa elementary schools.

The pilot required all exterior doors to remain locked during school hours, including front doors, and visitors to present a valid ID upon request to enter.

Though Pocatello-Chubbuck spokeswoman Courtney Fisher said the district didn’t have any firm cost estimates for the program, local leaders will consider districtwide adoption of the heightened measures in the coming months.

Fisher said a survey of 362 parents indicated that 73 percent believe the school is safer with all doors locked and one dedicated entry point.

Further north, the Madison School District is also gearing up for renewal of the district’s one-year, $2 million supplemental levy to help with security expenses. The levy would support the purchase and maintenance of the district’s complex camera monitoring system, Madison assistant superintendent Randy Lords said in a video posted to the district’s Facebook page.

“We’ll spend anywhere from $100 to $300 on a security camera,” Lords said, adding that the district currently has around 160 cameras placed in schools throughout the district.

School leaders have met increased threats

From February to April, Idaho police investigated school threats — or rumors of threats — in at least five districts. Two of the investigations resulted in student arrests.

Last month, police detained another student in connection with an alleged pistol-whipping incident between two siblings attending Southeast Idaho’s Marsh Valley High School. The altercation fueled a massive response from police and prompted the local sheriff to warn armed parents who showed up at the school to stay away during lockdowns, according to the Idaho State Journal.

The wave of threats has rattled Idahoans. In the midst of ubiquitous lockdowns, districts have put in place a mixed bag of additional safety measures, from armed staff and buzz-in systems to automatic grounds for expulsion for students making threats.

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