By Mike Scott
Clark County schools are in the midst of a major security upgrade as part of the $8 million dollar bond issue approved by voters last year.
On almost every school door, key locks have been, or will soon, be replaced with electronic access, either with a card or key fob. The exception, ironically, is the main doors, where security construction is underway. Once that work is complete, those doors will also have electronic access. Each building will have at least one door accessible with a key, in case entry is needed during a power outage, but those keys will be tightly restricted.
The cards or key fobs can be programmed to work only during certain times. For example, teachers, custodians and administration will have 24/7 access, while school paraprofessionals may only have access immediately before, during and immediately after school hours. After-hours delivery persons can have access only to the kitchens, and others using the buildings can have cards that will only work during set, pre-approved times.
“We can program them to work however we want them to,” said Superintendent Dr. Ritchie Kracht. “We don’t have to worry about someone copying or losing a key. We can just deactivate the card that was assigned to them.”
“It also keeps a log of who was in the building and when,” added school board member Kari Bevans.
“The cards are awesome. Everyone loves them,” said Running Fox principal Katrina Nixon.
All the exterior doors at both elementary buildings have been replaced, and all the hardware on the doors at the Middle School and High School have been replaced to accommodate the new card readers.
The doors will be automatically unlocked for a period in the morning and afternoon, when students are arriving or leaving, and locked automatically the rest of the time. Each school can adjust their own schedule, based on when buses and students arrive and depart.
A push-bar on every exterior door will allow anyone to leave in the case of an emergency, but not re-enter.
Currently, security entrances are under construction at Running Fox Elementary, the Middle School and the High School. Black Hawk Elementary’s new entrance was originally scheduled to be built after the new Indian Pride Learning Center was completed, but the district has recently worked out a plan to get their security entrance installed before the start of next school year.
“My staff is very happy about that,” said principal Julie Brotherton. “It was a big concern.”
Although the design at each building is different, the basic plan will require school visitors to enter a locked vestibule area before being “buzzed in” by the school secretary or principal.
As part of the project, each school’s offices are being moved or redesigned to allow school staff to have a better view into the vestibule areas, and to control public access. Video cameras will record who enters the vestibule, and an added feature will permit the principals to see the vestibule on a monitor in their offices, and “buzz in” visitors when the secretary is busy or out or the office.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for people,” said Middle School principal Jason Church.
“We have a lot of parents who like to come inside and wait for their kindergartners,” added Nixon. “I’ve already started talking to them about it. They will just have to wait outside.”
Outside of the elementary buildings, the playgrounds are now fenced, which serves both to keep students in a designated space and to keep others out.
Clark County’s progress puts them ahead of most schools in northeast Missouri, Kracht reported to the board.
“It’s sad that we have to think about this, but it is the world we live in,” he said.
Each building has also conducted intruder drills, some including students, other being staff-only training.
“Our teachers feel more empowered than before,” said Church.
The school district has invited law enforcement to visit the schools whenever they’d like, so they can become more familiar with the buildings. Nixon reported that several Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers have visited Running Fox. The Clark County Sheriff’s office is also planning a training session at the schools.
The school district has specific action plans in the event of an intruder emergency, which this newspaper will not make public.
“We feel as confident as we can that if we can get people into classrooms with the doors locked, no one will be getting into those rooms before police can arrive,” said Kracht.