Education

Cedar Rapids schools increasing security in wake of school shootings around U.S.

$1.5 million for classroom door locks; task force wants 'run, hide, fight' drills

(File photo) Students leave at the end of the school day at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo) Students leave at the end of the school day at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids school officials are spending nearly $1.5 million on easy-to-lock classroom doors and considering new intruder drills for students and staff.

For many schools in the district, the only way to lock a classroom door is with a key from outside the room. The time spent securing a classroom that way could have dire consequences, were an intruder in a school building.

“This is a one-time expense, and it saves our staff a few seconds or a few minutes,” district Buildings and Grounds Manager Jon Galbraith, 32, said in an interview. “It’s something easy and it’s something quick we can do to increase the safety of our staff and students.”

The new doors, which have lever handles with interior push button locks, come as the Cedar Rapids school board considers a broader approach to staff and student safety at school.

Members of the district’s recently-formed Safety and Security Task Force issued several recommendations at the school board’s Monday evening meeting:

• Create a full-time school security and crisis response supervisor position — with a starting salary of $65,000 — to oversee safety efforts, as well as a district safety committee;

• Require that students participate in active threat and evacuation drills, which will be developed by the district and law enforcement and include “run, hide, fight” instruction;

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• Train all administrators to lead active threat curriculum and drills, with staff participating in ongoing professional learning;

• Hold two drills at each district school;

• Communicate the district’s active threat plan with community members and host parent education training about threats.

The task force of some 50 people — including students, elected officials and law enforcement — came to the recommendations after holding nine to 12 hours worth of meetings, according to board documents.

“Our current state is we are practicing drills, those being tornado, fire and lockdown,” Harrison Elementary Principal Trista Manternach said during a board presentation. “ ... Maybe hiding is not the best option for us.”

The district began examining its security procedures because of “recent world events,” said Laurel Day, who oversees security for the district in addition to serving as the school board secretary.

“This is just a way to help prepare,” Day told the board. “It’s no different than how we do fire and tornado (drills.) It’s just a matter of reality and ... it is a sad situation.”

Multiple shootings this year across the country — notably the attack on a high school in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead — have spurred strong responses from schools, elected officials and students.

Under the committee’s recommendations, Cedar Rapids principals would receive training in August and conduct lockdown drills during the first 20 days of school. Those initial drills would not include updated instruction.

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By January, the district would develop lesson plans around the intruder drills and begin running “run, hide, fight” drills, with law enforcement officials, in March.

Although board members agreed students and staff should receive additional safety training, some expressed sadness and concern over the need for the intruder drills, as well as the associated costs.

“This is not free to provide our students and staff,” board President John Laverty said, noting low increases in state aid to public schools in recent years. “This will cost millions of dollars for a school district the size of Cedar Rapids. ... This is the right thing to do, and we are 100 percent behind it, but I am very concerned about that.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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