Parents dropping off or picking up kids from school will find security a little tighter today as Birmingham Public Schools begins to implement new security measures Tuesday — most notably, locked doors and security guards manning the front doors of all buildings.
Also today, parents of Pierce Elementary students will start test-piloting a new "vistor notification system" (VNS) involving intercoms, security cameras and buzzers at all the school's main doors.
The new safety measures are part of a month-long review of security policies at Birmingham Public Schools, sparked by the shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school in mid-December.
Immediately after the shooting, Birmingham Superintendent Daniel Nerad announced that the district would begin studying the issue and enforcing several security measures already in place.
However, on Jan. 15, Nerad told the Birmingham Board of Education that, in the interim, the district would immediately begin beefing up security: namely, locking the front doors of all school buildings during the day and hiring security guards to regulate vistors.
According to a note sent home to parents last Thursday, the new security policies go into effect first the time on Monday. The presence of security guards, Nerad said, is temporary while the locked front doors will be permanent.
Main entrances doors will be locked within five minutes after the start of the school day and will not be reopened until the end of the day.
Now when visitors need to enter a Birmingham school during the day, they will need to identify themselves to the security guard, Nerad said, explaining the purpose of their visit. The security guard will then escort the visitor to the main office where they'll sign in.
"We are asking in advance for everyone's cooperation and patience with this new protocol," Nerad said.
Testing the VNS system at Pierce, Nerad said, is part of his administration's efforts at increasing security throughout the district in the long term. Once tested at Pierce, the VNS will be reviewed and potentially recommended for implementation districtwide.
According to Pierce principal Jim Lalik, parents and visitors to Pierce will now be greeted by a new sign on the front door reading:
Welcome to Pierce! Please press the intercom button and office personnel will assist you as soon as possible. Thank you!
Should the visitor be allowed in, they will then be directed to the main office where they'll have to sign in and get a visitor's sticker.
Lalik said the new system will require some patience and encourages parents to reduce the number of times they visit Pierce during the day.
"During a normal school day, we have close to 100 visitors in the building," Lalik wrote in a note to parents last week. "Having this many visitors go through the VNS protocol will have an impact on the office staff. Thus, we need your help in reducing this number."
"One important way you can help us is to assist your child with morning procedures so they remember their homework, backpacks, lunches and instruments," he added.
According to Nerad, Birmingham Schools already works hard to ensure the safety of its students, from regular lockdown drills to auditing each building with Facilities and Operations staff. In addition, the district regularly cooperates with the police and fire departments where school buildings are located, he added.
Nerad will present his final report on the district's security policies during the Feb. 5 meeting of the Birmingam Board of Education.
"This report will explain in more detail the decision for security personnel (short-term) and a recommendations for how to manage (long-term) the complete perimeter lockdown of our schools," Nerad said.
Do you think Birmingham Schools' new plan — from the security guards to the VNS system — will be a good thing for the district? Is it too big of an inconvenience?