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Bellefonte School District Addresses Safety Concerns

by on January 20, 2013 4:24 PM

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — On the heels of one of the worst school shootings in United States history, the Bellefonte Area School District held a meeting on Jan. 9 to address student safety and building security.

The meeting was held in the auditorium of the high school. Bellefonte superintendent Dr. Cheryl Potteiger was joined by Bellefonte borough police chief Shawn Weaver, school resource officer Jason Brower and Spring Township police officer Mike Danneker.

Approximately 100 parents listened to a presentation by school officials and members of law enforcement community. That was followed by a question and answer session. During that time, parents voiced concerns about current procedures and potential changes.

Potteiger was the first to speak.

“This is not a reaction to the shootings in Connecticut,” Potteiger said matter-of-factly. “We have been very pro-active as a district. We have pretty serious measures in place when it comes to school security.”

There are six school buildings in the Bellefonte district — Bellefonte Elementary, Benner Elementary, Marion Walker Elementary, Pleasant Gap Elementary, Bellefonte Area Middle School and Bellefonte Area High School.

According to Potteiger, safety procedures are the same at every school in the district. Doors are locked at all times, and a special key-tag is necessary to enter the school. The key-tag system keeps administrators up to date as to who is entering the school.

“It checks them constantly. It's just one more safety measure we have put in place to track who is coming into our schools,” Potteiger said.

Since the doors are locked all day long, the door has to be unlocked for a visitor to gain access. Once inside, they must provide a photo ID to obtain a “visitor's pass.”

Shortly after the shootings that killed 20 children in Newtown, Conn., the school district decided to

lock elementary school doors in the mornings. Now, there are teachers stationed at the entrance to greet children as they enter the schools.

It's just another way to make the schools safer.

“I'm a freak when it comes to safety in our schools. We are doing things to make everything as safe as possible for our students in our schools,” she said.

Classroom doors are now locked as well, meaning someone walking down the hall cannot open the door. It has to be opened from the inside — either by a student or a teacher.

According to Potteiger, the locked classroom doors are a no-brainer.

“When our kids are in a classroom with instructors, doors are shut and doors are locked. We've learned that if (a potential shooter) can't get in, it deters them from doing it,” she said.

During the question-and-answer period, several parents asked about the possibility of installing metal detectors at school entrances. However, there are many problems with metal detectors — cost being just one, according to Brower.

“Metal detectors would add at least an hour to the school day. At the high school, we have 900 students arriving at the same time. They'd be trying to get through those doors. Students would have to get to school at 6 a.m.,” Brower said.

In addition to fire drills, there are also plans to have drills in case something catastrophic would occur. According to Potteiger, school administrators, teachers and students have been instructed how to act during a time of crisis.

There were plenty of questions from parents, but Potteiger refused to answer some of them as to not compromise the safety of the students.

“We have protocols in place,” she said, “but I'm not going to share those with you.”

Weaver said that there are tactical plans in place should something happen at any of the schools in the district.

“They're plans. They're not perfect. But I feel safe and I feel that my children are safe,” Weaver said. “I can lay my head down at night knowing that we are as safe as we can be.”

Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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