Wyoming schools in Park County School District No. 6 in Cody and Uinta School District No. 1 in Evanston will allow teachers to carry guns next year, but Teton County schools are going a different way.
Instead of adding guns, they’re tightening access.
“Most of our buildings were built decades before safety and security became part of our daily operational routines,” said Jeff Daugherty, assistant superintendent of Teton County School District No. 1. But under the new way, “Access to the schools is going to be different,” he said. “We need a more rigorous system in place.”
The district is focused on four areas: access management, visitor management, training, and software and communications. New entrance vestibules, like the one installed at Colter Elementary School over spring break, fall under the access management category.
“The security vestibules are a key part of prioritizing the safety of our students,” Daugherty said.
Security vestibules will keep guests sandwiched between two doors while they are checked into the school by the front office. The way things are set up now at most schools, a visitor can be buzzed through the second door and have access to the school before reaching the front office.
After remodeling, a buzzer will still exist for visitors to be let through the first door, but staff will actually see them face to face before they make it through the second.
“We want to have the first contact with the public right as you walk in,” Daugherty said.
Jackson Hole Middle School is likely to be next for an entrance upgrade, followed by either Jackson Hole High School or Wilson Elementary. Money is likely to come from a state safety and security fund or major maintenance dollars.
“The goal is to have vestibules at every school except for the outlying schools,” Daugherty said. “The goal is to detain people until we understand who they are and what their means within the schools are. The goal is to delay entry to the building and access to students.”
A contractor did the work at Colter in a weekend. It may take longer at other schools, depending on the existing entrance. At the middle school, for example, the entrance will have to be moved to line up with where the office is.
Jackson Hole High School’s entrance redesign hasn’t been planned yet.
“It’s going to be the most challenging because right now, the entry area is in the middle of the school,” Daugherty said. “To check in you literally have to go to the heart of the school.”
Even parents are likely to have less freedom to roam the schools where their children attend. It may be frustrating at times, but Daugherty is asking for patience
“We’re asking parents to please understand where we are coming from and that our prime directive is safety,” he said.
Even if staff recognizes a parent, they will still need to be credentialed and perhaps escorted in the school. In some cases, parents won’t be allowed to go to their children’s classroom if, for example, they need to drop off a lunch. The student might come to them, or they might leave the lunch at reception.
“As a parent, if I needed to drop off an art project or a science project or a coat, I had very little trouble getting to my student’s classroom,” Daugherty said, noting the way things now are. “The goal is to really minimize anyone who doesn’t have an essential programmatic reason for being at the school.”
There will also be changes for community groups that use school space after school hours. The district now struggles to isolate those groups to the area they’ve been granted permission to use.
“You can literally wander around the entirety of the school,” Daugherty said. “That is a problem to us, looking back at the threat we had last month.”
Requiring community groups to pay for security personnel while they are in the buildings is a potential solution. The personnel would have to pass a school background check.
The district is re-keying all the schools. The ID cards used allow administration to limit what times of the day staff can enter and exit, as well as know if a door is left open on the weekend or after hours.
As the school year comes to a close, opportunities for training are few.
“Because our professional development is pretty much done for the year, the options for this year are a little bit more limited compared to next year,” district spokeswoman Charlotte Reynolds said. “There will be a full training plan.”
At staff meetings there will be time for intruder training. Daugherty said that Superintendent Gillian Chapman is also considering a variety of options for more rigorous half-day trainings.
“Most of the staff have already done training, but we need to keep it current and fresh,” Daugherty said.
The district is also looking into new software to make communication easier in the event of an emergency.
“Communications are always the most challenging element when timing is essential,” Reynolds said.
Overall, Daugherty said, keeping schools safe is a project that’s never over.
“Safety and security is not a destination,” he said. “It’s a journey.”