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Schools seek balance in security

Friday, December 21, 2012

McCook Elementary School Principal Tim Garcia, top, keeps an eye on the 12 security cameras installed at the school, shown on the monitor behind him. Security at the school is good, he said, noting that office staff can see everyone who enters through windows facing the front of the building.
(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
McCOOK, Nebraska -- Last Friday was a horrible day for staff and teachers at McCook School district and for educators everywhere, said Superintendent Grant Norgaard.

That was the day when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 students -- aged 6 and 7 years old -- and six adults. The horror about the shootings was felt immediately at McCook Schools, Norgaard recalled.

"It affected us deeply, it was a horrible day," he recalled. "Everyone in education was devastated. You're talking about a group of people who have dedicated their lives to students and to have this happen was terrible. It affected us deeply. We had people crying, the whole nine yards."

Last Friday was a horrible day for educators everywhere, said Superintendent Grant Norgaard.
(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
Norgaard said since then, he's received a couple of phone calls from parents about safety at the McCook School District. Ironically, two days before the Newtown killings, staff had been introduced to new procedural changes in case of an intruder, he said.These changes include giving teachers more control and power to save lives, he said and being more aggressive than passive.

"Whether it's barricading doors or breaking out windows to get the kids out, our teachers will do what they can do to save students," he said.

Norgaard continued that the schools in the district are as safe as any other building in the community, with staff periodically undergoing training for unexpected situations.

McCook Elementary has several security measures already in place.
(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
McCook School District schools has multiple security cameras inside the schools, with 12 installed at McCook Elementary.

In addition, access to the entrance of all schools is limited to one set of doors at each school, with all visitors requested to check in.

Norgaard was not enthusiastic to the idea of having armed security officers stationed at each school, or teachers being allowed to carry guns.

Although the school district has an armed officer, he operates much like an educator, Norgaard said, teaching students about bullying, coordinating the DARE anti-drug program and helping with law enforcement issues if they arise.

But, "schools are not a place I would like to see a lot of guns," Norgaard said.

McCook Elementary Principal Tim Garcia agrees. As a former Marine and policeman, he doesn't see armed security guards or teachers with weapons as the best deterrent.

"In a perfect world, it would be great," he said of armed security officers. But without out proper and consistent training, teachers carrying guns to school is not a realistic solution, he said.

Instead, there must be a balance between making schools secure but not locked-down facilities.

"Of course, our first concern is the safety and security of our students and staff, for them to feel safe," Garcia said. "But we can't turn our schools into fearful institutions. We need to keep the integrity of an educational environment."

At McCook Elementary, the first set of doors are in front of office windows, so office staff can see immediately who is entering. The second set of doors leading to the inside of the school can be locked by staff.

In the end, only so much prevention is possible to stave off tragedies on public property, both Garcia and Norgaard agreed.

Perhaps the only thing educators can take away from the Newtown tragedy is to find new strategies to save more lives, Norgaard said.

This could include raising awareness to halt the process before it begins, he said, with help from others.

"If we can begin to identify these persons, if there are suspicions about someone, if someone hears about a person who is going to do something, tell law enforcement, or tell us," Norgaard said.

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I respectfully disagree with Mr.Garcia and Mr. Norgaard. There was also resistance on having air marshals on planes after 911. It works there and it would work in our schools. The Connnecticut school had security in place and was unable to stop this tragedy. Yes, awareness is needed to halt the process before it begins, but this alone is not enough to stop a madman with a mission to do harm.

-- Posted by sleeping*giant on Sun, Dec 23, 2012, at 9:40 AM

I have to admit that if this article is a true reflection of the mindset of McCook Public Schools administration I am more than a little concerned.

But, "schools are not a place I would like to see a lot of guns," Norgaard said. It would only take one armed person to stop an incident or at least minimize casualties.

-- Posted by bntheredunthat on Sun, Dec 23, 2012, at 7:06 PM

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