COLUMBIA — Buzz-in security systems were being installed this week at Rock Bridge High School and the Columbia Area Career Center, the last two buildings in the Columbia School District to get them. The system also was being tested at Hickman High School.
The system is the first step in a security plan that is being implemented across the school district. Buzz-in systems won't allow anyone into a building without approval from the school’s main office.
Columbia School Board President Christine King said the board revisits school safety and security every year to find ways to improve.
John White, director of safety and security for the district, made a presentation to the board about the school’s lock-down procedures in October 2012, and the district began installing the buzz-in systems.
Two months after White's report, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Haven, Conn., occurred.
"The Sandy Hook incident reaffirmed our discussions for the need to improve safety," King said.
The school district's insurance company also raised concerns about the safety of Rock Bridge High School after Charles Feimer of Liberty Mutual Insurance visited in the spring. He noted in a June 17 letter to Linda Quinley, chief financial and operations officer for the district, that doors at the school were left "unlocked and unmonitored, allowing anyone to enter or leave the premises with no oversight or review.
"There is no concerted effort to secure the campus from outside intruders," Feimer said, "which endangers both the student body and your entire staff."
The Columbia Area Career Center is the last of the 34 school buildings in the district to have the system installed. The district began installing buzz-in systems in 2012 and finished earlier this year at all schools except Hickman, Rock Bridge and the Columbia Area Career Center, spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
She said that the district is very large and there were challenges with some of the schools. Hickman High School had trailers that students would go to for certain classes, requiring them to leave and then return to the main school building. The district waited to install the system at Hickman until the trailers were removed.
"Some parents are used to a traditional school system," Baumstark said, "but we can’t just lock the doors and be done with it."
In the buzz-in system the main doors will be locked electronically during school hours. Visitors will press a button at the door to alert the main office. Then the receptionist can see the person via the camera by the button and the video screen on their office phones. The visitor must state who he or she is and why he or she is visiting the school. The receptionist will then either allow or deny access to the building. Those allowed into the building are required to go to the office and get a visitor’s pass.
Randy Gooch is in his first year as director of the Columbia Area Career Center, which has both teenage and adult students.
"We have to remain customer friendly and adhere to the security procedures," Gooch said.
Once all the buzz-in systems are installed, the district will phase in other security measures. It is taking bids for a card system that will allow students to enter the building. The card will allow access to the building instead of the receptionist having to buzz students in.
Rock Bridge High School Principal Jennifer Rukstad said the card system will be more efficient.
"We have 1,900 students and 150 faculty," Rukstad said. "With (all those) people buzzing all day, it would be very taxing on our resources."
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