Anchorage School District announces new safety upgrades as schools prepare to welcome students

Anchorage School District Security and Emergency Management Senior Director Ashley Lally stands in front of the safety vestibule and buzzer system at Taku Elementary School on Aug. 4, 2023. (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

As Anchorage students prepare to go back to school next week, several schools have new safety upgrades.

Over the summer, six Anchorage School District elementary schools had security vestibules installed, adding an extra set of doors at the main entrance. District Security and Emergency Management Senior Director Ashley Lally said the vestibules can slow down a potential attack, to allow law enforcement time to arrive.

“The schools that have these now have two opportunities to deny entrance to people,” Lally said. “We know it’s not a perfect solution, there’s never going to be a perfect solution. You definitely cannot build or tech your way out of this problem, and that’s why I always kind of revert back to what we can do to prevent and mitigate, which is really more on the mental health side.” 

The vestibules were part of a $37.8 million bond approved by Anchorage voters this spring. The district has installed 39 so far, and plans to put another 20 in over the next two years. Lally noted a 2018 incident where the vestibule at Denali Montessori school worked as intended.

Last summer, all 92 ASD principals received weapons handling training from the Anchorage Police Department. 

“We had seen an increase of weapons violations on school grounds since we came back to school after COVID. And recognizing that increase, we wanted our principals to feel comfortable and not so nervous about dealing with that situation if it were to happen at their school,” Lally said. 

The buzzer systems at Anchorage schools require visitors to be let into the building by office staff. (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

Along with the infrastructure and training, ASD introduced the Be SMART program in September of 2022 to promote the safe storage of firearms in the home. Lally said that gun locks were distributed at the Clothesline Project at Clark Middle School last Saturday.

“It’s not that every time a gun is found on school grounds, it’s intentional. It really is accidental sometimes, and part of that must be because weapons are not being stored properly at home,” Lally said. “So Be SMART is all about outreach. It’s all about getting information into the hands of parents, because it is a guardian issue. It’s not a young minor student issue necessarily.”

School grounds are closed to the public between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily. Lally encourages parents to make sure their contact information is updated with the district in case of an emergency, and said that anyone can take part in the Adopt a School program by checking on school buildings as they pass by. The first day of school is Aug. 17. 

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Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him attrockey@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8487. Read more about Timhere

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