Friday, June 24, 2011

District officials concerned about school security

Board of trustees to consider remodels for school access


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

The possibility of a school shooting was made real in the Blaine County School District in April 2009 when a note was found threatening a shooting at Wood River High School. Hailey Patrolman Jameson Sharp is shown then inspecting a backpack when heightened security was put in place. The note turned out to be a hoax, but school security continues to be of concern to district officials. Photo by Mountain Express

If someone with a gun wanted to walk into Wood River High School and start shooting, there would be little to stop them, according to the security director for the Blaine County School District.

Scott Manning, a former Ketchum police detective and now school security director, warned of the vulnerabilities at the high school at the June 14 school board meeting. At the school's entrance, he said, the only protection immediately at hand would be Hailey Patrolman Raul Ornelas, who serves as the school resource officer and who typically stands near the entry to the school commons area while students are having lunch.

"If someone went in there to commit an act of targeted violence, he would be the first person to target," Manning said. "And the person then has free access to walk into the commons area where half of the student body is having lunch, and it would be a real catastrophe if that actually happened."

Manning's statements were part of an impassioned presentation to the school board to continue funding for remodeling the entrances to the high school and Wood River Middle School to reduce vulnerability. He warned the school board that school shootings continue to happen across the United States and that people in the Wood River Valley should not be complacent about the possibility of it happening here.

Trustee Paul Bates took exception to Manning's presentation and called it "paranoid ranting."

Trustee Daniel Parke disagreed with Bates and accused him of "not putting the children first."

The issue of whether to approve remodeling of the high school and middle school entrances will likely be considered by the board at its meeting on July 12.

School security

Blaine County voters have already authorized $2.24 million for school safety and security improvements. The funding was included in a 10-year, $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by the electorate in 2009.

Many of the improvements, including new school security cameras, electronic door lock systems, key card identifications and improved school and police communications are already in the process of being implemented.

Manning discussed those changes during his presentation, but said remodeling the entrances to the high school and middle school is key to providing improved security at those facilities. If approved, the entrances would be rebuilt so that access to the schools would have to go through the front office.

Remodeling the entrances is scheduled to take place this summer, but still requires school board approval.

"I'm looking at the board to see what they want to do," district Business Manager Mike Chatterton said in an interview Wednesday. "Basically, what I'm doing right now is getting prices together for those access points and I expect to put that to the board on July 12."

If approved, Chatterton said, the remodels could likely be completed before the start of the coming school year.

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Meeting flap

Manning's presentation to the school board included a scenario that he said is a possibility at the high school. He compared the scenario to an actual shooting that occurred on Sept. 27, 2006, at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., some 30 miles southwest of Denver.

In Bailey, a 53-year-old former prison inmate waited at the school until the resource officer was away, then walked in with a gun and took six female students hostage. He sexually assaulted them and killed one girl before shooting himself as police stormed the building.

Manning said Bailey school officials had become complacent about the possibility of a violent act and had cut funding for security upgrades prior to the shooting, even though one of the most notorious school shootings in U.S. history had occurred in 1999 at Columbine High School in nearby Littleton, Colo.

"I'm not trying to tell our board and the citizens of Blaine County that an act of violence is imminent in one of our schools," Manning said. "But I am trying to convince all of you that it is a real possibility. I ask you not to make the same mistakes that have been made in the past.

"I only ask you this—what's the life of your child worth to you?"

After a short pause, Bates made his statement.

"I thought that was really, really inappropriate," Bates said. "I felt that was just paranoid ranting, is what I would call it. I didn't hear a lot of information, except that if anything happens anywhere then it's on my shoulders if I don't agree."

Board Chair Julie Dahlgren disagreed, saying, "It's very important that students feel safe."

"I just did not find the presentation inappropriate at all," she said. "It's a very special reminder about the safety of our kids."

Parke disagreed with Bates in stronger terms.

"There's nothing wrong with a reminder," Parke said. "I think it was appropriate. I think it was factual information with things that actually happened.

"Frankly, I'll be honest with you Paul, you don't support anything the district wants to do except be a contrarian and saying no just for the sake of saying no.

"I don't frankly know if you're representing the kids or if you're representing your special interest group," Parke said. "And I'll be frank with you, that fact came across very poorly tonight that you are not putting the children first."

School shootings

The number of school shootings is not on the rise in the United States. About 10 of them occur each year at universities or secondary and elementary schools. There have been five so far in 2011.

Idaho is not immune. On April 16, 1999, a 15-year-old student wounded a classmate at Notus Junior-Senior High School in west-central Idaho.

That shooting occurred only three days before the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, where 12 students and a teacher were killed before the two shooters shot and killed themselves.

Blaine County had its own scare in April 2009 when a note was found at Wood River High School threatening a school shooting to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine incident. The note turned out to be a hoax, but police and school officials took the threat seriously and the school was placed under tight security for several days.

At the June 14 school board meeting, Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters said a student smuggled a BB gun into the school just this past school year. He also defended Manning's presentation.

"Scott's a lifelong police officer and they tend to be pretty blunt when there's an issue," Peters said. "And the issue here is that every day it crosses my mind as a principal, not just as a target, but are we secure enough, are we doing enough?

"There's not a whole lot right now that I feel comfortable with if we're going to make our schools safer. We still have a lot to do."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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