School Safety: Inside One School's Extraordinary Security Measures
While schools across America reassess their security measures in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., one school outside of Chicago takes safety to a whole new level.
The security measures at Middleton Elementary School start the moment you set foot on campus, with a camera-equipped doorbell. When you ring the doorbell, school employees inside are immediately able to see you, both through a window and on a security camera.
"They can assess your demeanor," Kate Donegan, the superintendent of Skokie School District 73 ½, said in an interview with ABC News.
Once the employees let you through the first set of doors, you are only able to go as far as a vestibule. There you hand over your ID so the school can run a quick background check using a visitor management system devised by Raptor Technologies. According to the company's CEO, Jim Vesterman, only 8,000 schools in the country are using that system, while more than 100,000 continue to use the old-fashioned pen-and-paper system, which do not do as much to drive away unwanted intruders.
"Each element that you add is a deterrent," Vesterman said.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, Vesterman told ABC News his company has been "flooded" with calls to put in place the new system. Back at Middleton, if you pass the background check, you are given a new photo ID - attached to a bright orange lanyard - to wear the entire time you are inside the school. Even parents who come to the school on a daily basis still have to wear the lanyard.
"The rules apply to everyone," Donegan said.
The security measures don't end there. Once you don your lanyard and pass through a second set of locked doors, you enter the school's main hallway, while security cameras continue to feed live video back into the front office.
It all comes at a cost. Donegan's school district - with the help of security consultant Paul Timm of RETA Security - has spent more than $175,000 on the system in the last two years. For a district of only three schools and 1100 students, that is a lot of money, but it is all worth it, she said.
"I don't know that there's too big a pricetag to put on kids being as safe as they can be," Donegan said.
"So often we hear we can't afford it, but what we can't afford is another terrible incident," Timm said.
Classroom doors open inward - not outward - and lock from the inside, providing teachers and students security if an intruder is in the hallway. Some employees carry digital two-way radios, enabling them to communicate at all times with the push of a button. Administrators such as Donegan are able to watch the school's security video on their mobile devices. Barricades line the edge of the school's parking lot, keeping cars from pulling up close to the entrance.
Teachers say all the security makes them feel safe inside the school.
"I think the most important thing is just keeping the kids safe," fourth-grade teacher Dara Sacher said.
Parents like Charlene Abraham, whose son Matthew attends Middleton, say they feel better about dropping off their kids knowing the school has such substantial security measures in place.
"We're sending our kids to school to learn, not to worry about whether they're going to come home or not," she said.
In the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook last Friday, Donegan's district is now even looking into installing bullet-resistant glass for the school building. While Middleton's security measures continue to put administrators, teachers, parents and students at ease, Sacher said she thinks that more extreme measures - such as arming teachers, an idea pushed by Oregon state Rep. Dennis Richardson - are a step too far.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable being armed," Sacher said. "Even if you trained people, I think it'd be better to keep the guns out of school rather than arm teachers."