COLUMBIA — As new buzzer systems are installed at schools throughout Columbia, a revised gun policy also is on the table to strengthen security districtwide.
Last year, Columbia Public Schools budgeted $60,000 to put in buzzer systems at 34 schools and other district buildings, spokeswomen Michelle Baumstark said. More than half of the schools now have the system, and the installation process is scheduled to be completed by June.
With the new system, all school doors are locked when classes are in session. To enter, a person must press a buzzer at the front door and be allowed in by a school official.
When Battle High School opens in the fall, Baumstark said, high schools will no longer need outside trailers for classrooms, and traffic in and out of the schools will decrease.
"With students remaining in the school buildings all day, it makes sense to keep the doors locked," Baumstark said. "The buzz-in system will keep schools more secure."
Additional lighting, cameras and two-way radios are a part of this year's security upgrades at various schools, she said.
Revised gun policy
A policy that would allow two school officials to carry guns on school grounds will likely go before the Columbia School Board in May, Baumstark said.
A committee has been revising the details of the policy since January. Under the proposal, the district's director and assistant director of security — currently John White and Ken Gregory — would be able to carry concealed handguns.
For the director or assistant director to carry the firearm, a minimum of 10 years of full-time law enforcement experience each is recommended by the policy, Baumstark said. Only school resource officers can carry weapons on school grounds currently.
Under the proposed policy, qualifications for the director and assistant director to carry a handgun include:
- A minimum of 24 hours of firearms training completed annually, provided by the Columbia Police Department
- Six hours of cultural and social sensitivity training completed every two years
- Appropriate state and federal requirements met, such as a conceal and carry license
White and Gregory both have about 20 years of law enforcement experience, Baumstark said.
School Board member Darin Preis said he is becoming more comfortable with the gun policy.
"The director and assistant director are considered first responders if an issue was to occur," said Preis, who also is a member of the policy committee. "I'm coming around to think that it is a good thing to have that added security."
While the idea of guns in schools is an uncomfortable thought, Preis said, there has been good discussion on both sides. It is likely the policy will be presented to the board in the near future, he said.
"I don't know for sure how the board will come down on the issue," Preis said. " I think there's a healthy level of concern, but I think it will pass."
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