Security stepped up in Peters Township schools

Published Sep 11, 2013 at 6:21 am (Updated Sep 11, 2013 at 10:25 am)

Entering any of the five Peters Township School District buildings takes a little more time, but the extra procedure is to ensure the safety of the students inside.

Previously, those wishing to enter a building, from any of the elementary schools to the high school, spoke into a small box outside the entrance doors and provided a brief summary of why he or she needed to enter. The door would buzz and the visitor would enter.

Beginning with the current school year, those wishing to enter will be viewed on camera by staff members in the school office. Unlike drive-through banks, the camera works only one way. Visitors hoping to enter a building will be seen by the staff, but the visitor will be unable to see the staff, said Shelly Belcher, district spokeswoman.

Installation of the cameras was not in response to any threat, but rather an extra step to provide as much security as possible.

Buildings where the cameras are installed include the high school, middle school and Pleasant Valley, McMurray and Bower Hill elementary schools. The administration building, however, does not have the same security measures taken at buildings where students are present.

District employees such as teachers and administrators have swipe cards specific to the buildings. Substitute teachers are provided a generic swipe card.

“There are no more exterior keys,” Belcher said.

Each visitor can be viewed, and not just a facial profile. The camera can pan up and down.

“It can put up a red flag before they enter the building,” Belcher said of the visual display.

At times there are custodial issues involving a student. By viewing the person seeking to enter the building, an office staff member can consult the student’s information to see who can and who cannot take the student from the building.

If there is a power outage, the system is tied to back-up generators.

Local emergency services, such as police, fire and ambulance personnel, were provided swipe cards if entry is needed after hours.

“Peters Township and the school district have been working for years to improve security at the schools and I think it’s great,” said Peters Township police Chief Harry Fruecht.

At the high school, a police officer, James Stevick, is assigned to patrol the halls during school hours. This year, the officer who conducts the DARE programs, Dave Stanton, has an office in the McMurray Elementary School, also providing a presence in the school.

Superintendent Dr. Jeannine French began her duties in mid-July after serving in administrative positions in the City of Pittsburgh schools.

“This is an evolving process to keep our children safe,” French said of the camera system.

To ensure extra security during the often hectic first week of school, administrators and central office staff were at every district building offering assistance to the students. Even French was on bus duty helping students make certain they were on the correct bus.

Parents were informed of the new safety procedures and were reminded about the requirement to provide photo identification in the office, through an e-mail blast sent before the first day of classes.

“The overall safety of our schools is impacted anytime guests enter our building,” Belcher wrote in the notice to parents and guardians. “Staff members will now be able to see and talk with guests about the nature of their visit as they request entry into the building. While parents are a vital part of our school community, this added layer of engaging all visitors prior to allowing them access to the building will help us to provide a more secure environment throughout the school day,” Belcher said.

The safety of students has always been a concern in the district but was “looked at closer” following the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in which 20 students and six adults were shot and killed Dec. 14.

“Inconvenience is often the price of security,” Belcher said of the few additional minutes it takes to enter a school building.

Every year administrators, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services, along with custodians walk through each building to discover potential hazards and areas that may be vulnerable.

“We think about security all of the time, and how we can improve it all the time,” Belcher said. “We are never done.”

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