Schools strive for safe environment

Published 4:52 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

Amidst the nationwide grief and horror at a Connecticut elementary school shooting, Superintendent Terry Brister of Lincoln County schools said he has reviewed safety plans and procedures with each of his principals this week.

     “It just makes you more aware,” Brister said of tragedies like the Newtown, Conn. school massacre.

     Safety is always a paramount concern for administrators, said Brister. He described the responsibility he has to ensure parents are comfortable with their children in his district.

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     “You want people to feel like when they send their children to school they’re safe,” he said.

     Each school has a safety and emergency response plan tailored to the layout and design of the buildings at each of the county attendance centers.

     His reviews weren’t prompted by any specific concerns, only a desire to ensure everyone remains prepared, Brister said.

     At Loyd Star Attendance Center, Principal Robin Case said she’s worked hard to continually revise and update the school’s safety plans and remain current.

     “Every year, we really reevaluate everything,” Case said. “We’re always trying to see if we can improve on our current situation.”

     Case said she does feel confident because the school has remained proactive and hasn’t been caught off-guard by school tragedies like what transpired last week in Connecticut.

     “We have tightened our security as time has gone on,” Case said. “I feel like we’re not having to be reactionary.”

     Loyd Star is an open campus with several buildings, and Case and she’s taken steps to make sure visitors don’t just walk onto the grounds.

     “We have tried to limit access so we can monitor what’s going on,” Case said.

     In the past, at schools like the county attendance centers, school employees might have known every parent in the district. That’s changed though, and things aren’t that way anymore.

     Visitor control has thus become a higher priority.

     “As our community has grown, we want to make sure that we’re monitoring who comes in,” Case said.

     Enterprise Attendance Center Principal Shannon Eubanks also discussed the unique challenge of creating a secure environment at a small, community-minded school.

     “Enterprise is family and we always want to maintain that,” Eubanks said. “We feel if you see barbed wire fence, some people have a little sense of foreboding.”

     Nonetheless, Eubanks said he takes seriously the charge to ensure Enterprise remains safe and prepared for potential emergencies.

     Eubanks has worked with local law enforcement to ensure his school’s emergency plans are sufficient.

     “In the past we have actually had a sheriff’s deputy come out and walk us through the plan to tweak it and see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

     One challenge Eubanks sees is the location of Enterprise.

     “It’s so far off a main artery,” Eubanks said. “We have to make sure we can handle things on our end.”

     Looking ahead, Brister said one thing he’s considering is beginning future construction with an eye toward making campuses more compact. He even raised the possibility future additions might utilize two-story buildings to avoid spreading campuses out further.

     “We’re spreading out instead of going up, and we’re going to look at going up more,” Brister said.

     That said, Brister knows there are limits to what security can do. He pointed out that Sandy Hook Elementary School had good security measures in place that were unable to prevent the tragedy there.

     “They probably had as good a security as you could have,” Brister said.

     Though it may be a cause for anxiety among parents and administrators, Brister cautioned that absolute security can’t be achieved.

     Said Brister, “100 percent can’t happen.”