On October 21, 2013, chaos erupted at Sparks Middle School in Nevada. Devoid of a precise motive and armed with his parents’ handgun, a 12 year-old middle schooler opened fire. The teacher was brutally massacred. Two students were gravely wounded in a matter of minutes. This small community had changed forever. It’s just another one of 40 school shootings since the late ninety’s and one of 27 mass killings a year.
It’s hard to fathom that we’ve approached the one-year anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, and after the tremendous public uproar for increased school security, it begs the question of what Bethel has done to improve our school climate to safeguard against violence.
On the forefront of the security issues was locking down and better managing the school’s numerous entry points. The result, a newly implemented school wide-policy which regulates student and staff entrances, a lock on every door, and guidelines as to who’s allowed in the building.
The next phase in this project entails, “A system that automatically checks people who come in and out based on their driver’s license. Instead of filling out their guest pass, the system will print their picture and information directly on the badge. And the system will also computerize any student who is tardy as well.” As outlined by BHS Principal Christopher Troetti.
Surveillance cameras also operate as an essential part of our school: “It has cut down on a lot of incidents in the building, and serves as a great way to monitor and keep track of the school with over 1,000 students.” explains Mr. Troetti. Currently the school deploys 105 operational cameras, both inside and along the exterior of the campus, and the district is in the process of streaming the live video to the administrator’s phones.
These “cloud-based” cameras come in part of Bethel’s greater approach to increased communication practices. The idea is to keep more people accurately informed about any situation at any given time. Through a radio system, the school can successfully contact the town’s police and fire services, the superintendent, and selected staff members.
Following the national trend of arming schools with an omnipresent guard, Bethel has hired a second School Resource Officer (SRO). The program looks to help maintain the atmosphere as a safe learning environment, as well as providing informational sessions in the classroom. Officer Farina explains that, “I’ve become more of a natural thing, rather than a cop.” Instead of only functioning as an armed guard, Farina has successfully implemented himself into the community, and has thus become an important facilitator of school security.
Post-Newtown, no issue might be more controversial than that of mental illness. In the 2013-2014 budget the high school gained a full-time school psychologist. Mr. Troetti notes that, “They can provide the support we need for students who might exhibit signs that are concerning. It’s their job to support families and provide social services. But at the same time we’re not a mental health facility, our job is really to support students.” Essentially, Bethel is well equipped to support early detection, but can’t stand as the only solution in that type of situation.
Nearly every facet of school-life has been analyzed and applied to the school’s security philosophy. Even the tree-line has been reduced to increase visibility throughout the campus.
Among all of the physical security procedures Bethel has implemented, no phrase tells more of Bethel’s committed approach to school security than an “All Hazards Approach.” Bethel’s betting than an anomaly such as Newtown isn’t the only tangible threat, “We want to look at not just what happens when someone comes in with a weapon, but everything. Whether it’s storm related, or a tanker truck down the road explodes. Those are the things that a more likely to happen than the things that have happened with Newtown,” states Mr. Troetti. Furthering this ideology, Bethel High has also established an “all situation” Crisis Team, which mimics bethel’s approach for increased communication. This system is designed to adapt to any and all emergency situations, and the group is composed of staff members.
Mr. Troetti adds, “Do we always look at our procedures? Absolutely. Are there ways to change and get better? Of course.”
In hindsight, Bethel really hasn’t changed their security policies that much, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is particularly because Bethel already had the majority these security procedures set in place, many of which were modeled after the 1999 Columbine School shooting. While simple routines such as a lockdown have changed over the years, in regards to security and philosophy, for the most part their primary function remains the same.
“The message has to be that we focus on looking at everything and not just one thing. I think that we’ve taken some important steps here at the high school. Is it absolutely perfect, by all means no. But I think that we have a safe environment, and that students feel safe here in the day to day operations of the building. We don’t want kids to feel like they’re in a prison either.”