Schools Address Security Measures

WHEELING — Even before a recent teachers strike began, Harrison Hills School District officials were looking to improve school security measures there.

Another school shooting on Wednesday– this time closer to home in Cleveland — has local school leaders once again thinking about safety in their buildings.

While West Virginia provides grant funding to school districts for security improvements, Ohio schools must employ more creative methods to get money for safety upgrades. As an example, St. Clairsville-Richland City School District leaders presently are planning a community campaign to raise dollars for school security improvements.

Security is an especially sensitive issue in the Harrison Hills Local School District, where an ongoing teachers strike has resulted in the hiring of 28 security guards to provide 24-hour watch in the district’s six buildings.

Last week, a man was able to enter the junior high school, sign in with the substitute teachers there, and teach for the next three days. He was found out only after his vehicle struck a picketing teacher and he was arrested.

“There is no way to describe our situation,” said Superintendent Jim Drexler. “We are in a different situation than anybody else.”

But Drexler added the district has been discussing security improvements in recent weeks — ever since residents there voted down a levy to build new schools there. School safety concerns would have been addressed within the construction of new school facilities. Officials must now, however, seek to improve security within the existing school buildings.

“We have been discussing this through our health and safety committee,” Drexler said. “We have many outside buildings that aren’t connected to the main buildings. Students have to go in and out of the facilities.

“We have to look at ways we can lock down the buildings while still allowing the students to get inside. We don’t want anybody to get stuck outside.

The district wants to purchase door locking mechanisms and key cards for students and faculty, and cameras also would be placed on all the outside doors.

“It’s something we weren’t going to do,” Drexler said. “We thought we would get new buildings. Now we are thinking about using permanent improvement monies to improve security.

The school district’s 3-mill permanent improvement levy generates $400,000 annually, Drexler said.

“We don’t know what the security measures would cost,” he noted. “But we also use that money to replace roofs and for maintenance.

Students at Bellaire High School, meanwhile, returned to school this year to find they now must carry magnetic identification cards to enter buildings.

“All of our buildings are locked down now,” said Bellaire Local School District Superintendent John Stinoski.

Doors at both the middle school and elementary school buildings in Bellaire have been locked down since the buildings opened in September 2001 — only a week before the bombings in New York City.

Bellaire High School has an open lunch policy for juniors and seniors this year that will be phased out in the next two years.

Students use their keycards to re-enter the building, Stinoski said. Members of the public needing to enter must go to one of three designated doors where a camera has been positioned. They must ring a buzzer to be let inside.

Bellaire’s school construction levies included money for security in the two new school buildings, and the renovated high school.

In West Virginia, schools don’t have to count on levy money to improve security.

Ohio County Schools this year received $190,510 from the State School Building Authority to make security upgrades in its 13 buildings, said Assistant Superintendent George Krelis. The money has been used to place monitors in all the school buildings and to increase exterior security doors.

“We have a very detailed security program,” he said. “We have security officers in each of the schools, and each school has a security plan.

“We’re not saying that something like a school shooting doesn’t raise our awareness, but always have awareness.”

St. Clairsville-Richland City Schools Superintendent William Zanders said that district wants to improve its security, and soon will be knocking on doors to raise the needed funds.

“We’re very much involved with increasing awareness with our staff and the kids,” he said. “In West Virginia, there is a lot of money being poured into schools for safety measures. We’re looking at doing fundraisers here to help defray the costs.”

St. Clairsville’s buildings aren’t new except for the connector buildings, he added.

“We are organizing a campaign to go to businesses and service clubs for the money,” Zanders said. “There is an interest in improving our security. Our school resource officer — St. Clairsville Police Officer Jeff Gazdik — is spearheading the effort, along with our technology coordinators and building principals.”

St. Clairsville Schools tried for a grant to get the improvements, Zanders noted.

“But we did not make it,” he said. “There is a faulty perception of wealth in this district. A number of districts have new buildings, and security was built into the construction. We are dealing with older facilities, and we don’t have that kind of budgetary revenue.”