Heightened security will soon be coming to a Birmingham school near you this spring, after the Birmingham Board of Education voted Tuesday night to accept a series of safety recommendations from Superintendent Daniel Nerad.
A big part of those recommendations: installing new "visitor notification systems" (VNS) — which involves security cameras and intercoms — at every building in the district by May 3.
While the total cost of purchasing and installing the VNS system has yet to be determined, the district estimates it will cost around $150,000.
The recommendations were part of a new Safe Schools report first presented to the school board on Feb. 5, crafted by district officials after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Security guards cost the district $40,000 a month
The new VNS systems will be replacing the unarmed security guards currently stationed at the doors to every school building. The guards were hired in January as a temporary measure after the district decided to lock the front doors of all school buildings during the day.
Currently there are 15 security guards working throughout the district. With each working 40 hours a week at $17 an hour, the current cost of the contract is $40,800 a month. The estimated cost of all security personnel through May 3 is $122,400, a district report says.
Hiring the security guards has not been a popular decision, Nerad admitted on Feb. 5.
"I do realize that this entire conversation ... has created, at times, its own anxiety," Nerad told the school board earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Scott Warrow, a Groves High School teacher and president of the Birmingham Education Association, told school board members that many teachers still don't understand why the guards were hired.
"They don't provide an immediate sense of security (since they're unarmed)," Warrow said. "They provide an appearance of security."
With new intercom system, visitors will have to state their reason for being at the school
That's where the VNS system comes in, Birmingham's technology director Kevin Galbraith said Tuesday night.
Tested at Pierce Elementary since January, the VNS system requires that visitors request entrance to a building via an intercom system.
According to the official School Safety Recommendations report, main entrance doors are locked within five minutes after the start of the school day. When a visitor approaches a building during school hours, they'll be greeted by a sign reading:
Welcome! Please press the intercom button and office personnel will assist you as soon as possible. Thank you!
By using the intercom installed near the front door, visitors can talk to staff members in the school's main office. They may be asked to face a security camera so that staff can identify the visitor before unlocking the door.
Visitors will need to give a reason for being at the school, and after entering, will have to sign in at the main office and receive a visitors' ID.
If there are multiple people at the door, the report reads, each will have to follow the VNS protocol — meaning everyone has to identify themselves and state their reason for being there.
However, if an event is scheduled — such as a class party — school staff may choose to deactivate the VNS system, though everyone will still be required to sign in at the office.
Secretarial staff taking on 'huge responsibility'
According to school board trustee Susan Hill, the district will pay for both the security guards and the VNS system using fund equity — or, money set aside in a type of district savings account.
Moving forward, however, the biggest challenge regarding the VNS system may be with staffing. The report urges parents to be patient if a staff member isn't immediately available to answer the intercom.
"The burden of implementation will fall on the secretarial staff, who are already working so hard as is," Hill said. "This is a huge responsibility that is now on the their shoulders."
Galbraigh admitted that while he doesn't have all the answers yet, additional office staff may be required once the system is installed.
- Birmingham Schools to Implement New Security Policies Starting Tuesday
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- Birmingham Schools Will Start Locking Front Doors During the Day
- 'We Owe It to Our Children': Birmingham Superintendent Vows to Review Safety Rules
What do you think of the visitor notification system? Is it good for the district? Will it be an inconvenience? Join the conversation below.