District to spend $6.4 million on school security measures
ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage School District plans to spend more than $6 million in state legislative grants on security upgrades to every public elementary, middle and high school in the city, starting this fall.
The changes come from a review of the safety of Anchorage's schools conducted after the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012.
The district must strike a balance between making Anchorage schools as safe as possible and preserving their openness to the community, administrators say.
Okay, well and good. Probably. But what do they propose to do that costs so much?
For now that means panic buttons, front doors that can lock electronically and more surveillance cameras. There are no plans for bullet-proof glass, metal detectors or arming citizen volunteers.
After the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the district hired a former Anchorage Police Department captain and school security head, Gardner Cobb, to lead a review of security procedures.
In February 2013, Cobb and the reviewers came back with mixed news: Anchorage schools, they found, are some of the most secure in the nation in their ability to "lockdown" quickly. Emergency plans are in place in every school in the district and faithfully practiced in drill scenarios by teachers, students and administrators.
So we're already among the "most secure". And?
The district found that 31 buildings needed upgraded intercoms, 16 elementary schools didn't have basic video surveillance equipment and several elementary schools weren't designed to let office staff monitor traffic in and out the front door. The district won't describe the security weaknesses of individual schools.
The district asked the legislature for $8.5 million to shore up surveillance, communications and alarm systems and received $6.4 million. The Anchorage School Board approved the spending without dissent at its meeting Monday night.
Some of the projects planned with the money include adding panic buttons that trigger an alarm directly at the Anchorage Police Department dispatch center. They will be the first alarms in the city hard-wired directly to the APD, Abbott said. Every elementary school will also get front doors that can be locked remotely by office staff in case of a threat. Intercoms and radios will be replaced and upgraded to allow all classrooms to communicate with the office in an emergency.
The scale of the project is huge, said Abbott. "We're going to touch every building."
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Volunteers with guns will not be allowed to patrol Anchorage schools, as the National Rifle Association suggested. And teachers will not be given an exception to the "no firearms on school property" rule. In January, Anchorage Rep. Bob Lynn, a Republican, proposed a bill into allow school districts to arm teachers and other staff, but even with three other sponsors -- Republican Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux, Doug Isaacson and Tammie Wilson -- the bill never got a hearing.
Current law already would allow teachers without a felony record to carry guns with permission from administration, but after discussing the idea with police chief Mark Mew, the district decided that the benefits of arming volunteers or teachers wouldn't outweigh the risks, Abbott said.
Responsible citizens and/or teachers with guns? Naw - can't have that!
But the money quote?
"(Principals) do not want to present the image of a fortress or a bunker for their schools," said Mike Abbott, the district's operations chief.
Right. We're going to lock kids in, refuse to allow their parents to accompany them into the buildings, monitor them with video cameras, and watch them every minute of the day.
But at least it won't be a fortress or a bunker.