One result of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 is a heightened concern about the security of school buildings.
In Chautauqua County, the sheriff's department has taken steps to increase the safety of the buildings and the training of school personnel to cope with a critical incident. Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles Holder is in charge of the effort in Chautauqua County, assisted by Sergeant James Rensel, a member of the SWAT team.
The first step was a safe school workshop held on Jan. 2 at Chautauqua Lake School with distance learning sites available at BOCES' LoGuidice and Angola sites.
OBSERVER?Photo By Diane R. Chodan
Undersheriff Charles Holder explains some of the items contributing to the safety of the building while Brocton Superin-tendent John Hertlein listens intently.
Holder said, "During that workshop, we offered to come to the school to do a walk through and (safety) audit."
To date three schools - Clymer, Chautauqua and Brocton - have accepted that invitation. Recently, Holder and Rensel conducted a two-hour walkthrough at Brocton with selected staff members, as well as board of education vice-president Doug Walter, an investigator for the sheriff's office.
Holder, pen in hand and carrying a legal notepad, surveyed the building. He and Rensel looked at what he calls the building's "environmental design" which includes items such as locations of entrances and exits, the configuration of the building and what materials were used in construction of the building.
Art Miller, the district's head custodian, answered questions about the building and offered insights into its unique features.
Jason Delcamp, middle/high school principal, carried a map of the building for reference and was able to answer questions.
Once Holder and Rensel surveyed the building, the group came back into Superintendent John Hertlein's office to discuss specific items. Hertlein provided Holder and Rensel with the district's current safety plan and supplemental information about security procedures such as preventing unwanted entrance. A safety plan addresses a number of critical situations, including lockdown situations as well as fire emergencies.
Holder began on a positive note. He said, "The facility is in great shape."
He added, "This is a unique audit in that construction (in the building) adds another dimension to safety considerations."
Rensel complimented the protocol for dealing with visitors to the building. A visitor must sign in at the office and is issued a temporary sticker that is coded to expire.
He said, "The appearance of the building having well-established security procedures can be a deterrent."
Hertlein said, "One of the best security measures we have is our kids." A student may point out that another student is not acting normally.
Holder asked whether the district wanted written recommendations or wanted him to just review them orally. Hertlein asked for a written set of recommendations so that the board of education can review them.
The next step for Brocton will be a lockdown drill on Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. Parents have been informed about this. The goal is to practice the necessary protocols, to familiarize the children with them and to improve their speed and accuracy.
Hertlein said, "The staff is on-board with this. You do whatever you can to take care of the kids."
Walter characterized Brocton's efforts as a good idea. He said, "Brocton is ahead of the curve on this."
Holder said that he and Rensel are available to conduct a school safety audit for other schools in Chautauqua County. Those interested may contact the Sheriff's office at 753-4900.
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