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Birmingham Schools to Implement New Security Policies Starting Tuesday

Beginning Tuesday, new security guards will be stationed at locked front doors at all Birmingham school buildings. In addition, Pierce Elementary begins a test of an intercom-based visitor notification system.

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?

Courteney Gettel January 29, 2013 at 01:24 PM
As per usual, this just an overreaction to an amazingly sad occurrence. Newtown really was sad and devastating. I grew up in Connecticut. I know this knocked the state as well as the country to their knees. But do we really need to lock our kids away from the world? Our schools pride themselves on the parents who get involved - from helping in the classrooms to patrolling the lunchroom curtailing food fights. Is spending at least $250,000 on a band aid really the best way to go particularly since Birmingham faces so many other financial problems? How about we take that money and put it where it belongs - on identifying and helping those kids who may need it? The young man who pulled the trigger was the one who needed help the most. The system failed him. I am not condoning his actions by any means, but perhaps we need to step back, take a breath and really look at the situation before we go in busting through the doors.
Margaret Betts January 29, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Here here.
Racer Boy January 29, 2013 at 10:31 PM
So, a totally crazed, armed individual bent on destruction, approaches the locked front door..throws a cinderblock through it and walks in and opens fire. I am not sure he is worried about staing his business and signing in. Unless that supposed security guard is armed and trained these new security measures are pretty useless. BTW: Newtown was totally locked up when the shooter went to the school.
Courteney Gettel January 30, 2013 at 02:35 AM
So I was working tonight (lice is seriously on the rise again) and happened to speak to a staff member at one of the schools. They told me that these people are paid to sit at the door and only get 2 15 minute breaks during the school day. They are paid to eat their lunch sitting at the door. No desk, just a chair. Are you kidding me???? I agree with Racer Boy. Again, lovely $250K (at least) band aid!

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