The Tredyffrin Easttown School District is taking several steps to make it even harder for potential bad guys to gain access to the district's school buildings.
The process is literally called "hardening" according to district officials who briefed the public during a nearly two hour meeting Wednesday night attended by hundreds of concerned parents and interested community members.
The meeting at Valley Forge Middle School was held in response to the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut last month.
Among the procedures that will now become part of daily school life in the district's eight schools:
- All visitors will be "buzzed in" through locked main entrance doors once the class day begins. Currently the only access to schools during the class day (once all the students are in the building in the morning) is through the front door. Now those doors will be locked and all visitors will be required to use a camera-equipped intercom system to get into the buildings. The locked doors will be controlled by a receptionist stationed in the front halls of the buildings. If the receptionist is not on station, access to the school will be controlled by someone in the front office. Both the receptionist and school office will have video monitors that allow them to see who is at the door before buzzing visitors in.
- Bullet-resistant film will be installed on the glass of front school entrance ways. The film, which police and district officials say is the same material that is used to make U.S. Army and Navy facilities more bullet resistant, is designed to stop shots from breaking through glass. Officials at the meeting were quick to point out that it will not make the glass bullet proof, but is designed to stop one or a few limited number of gunshots from breaking through glass.
- A photo ID will be required to enter schools. Once visitors are granted initial access to a building, they will be required to show a photo ID.
- A consultant will conduct a security audit of school buildings to make review potential physical plant security issues and also to look at procedures for keeping students and staff safe during an emergency. District Superintendent Dan Waters says he has hired former Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Andy Chambers to conduct the security audit. Waters says Chambers, who retired at the end of 2011, was contracted because he has 25 years of experience working with district officials and school building staff and does not have to spend time being brought up to speed on existing procedures the way two other consultants who were being considered for the job would have.
- Lock down and Emergency Drills will continue and may be increased in some buildings. The district says emergency drills for situations ranging from a gunman in the building to biological and other hazardous situations are already done every year.
- Increased police presence outside and inside the school buildings. The chiefs of both the Easttown and Tredyffrin Police Departments say they have increased patrol officers' visibility at the schools since the day of the massacre in Newtown. Plans are being made for officers to spend more time inside the schools as well so that students can become even more comfortable with officers and develop a rapport with them. Police already visit schools but will now add programs like having lunch with students.
The two police chiefs and school officials emphasized that T/E Schools have long been ahead of most schools in the state in terms of safety and security measures and that tragic shooting incidents like the ones in Newtown, Columbine and West Virginia provide an opportunity to review procedures and physical plant security based on what is learned through such tragedies.
The new entrance intercoms and ballistic film for the glass are expected to be in place as soon as the end of January.