The front doors of Petersburg’s middle and high schools will be locked each day after classes begin. The change was implemented Monday morning and is meant to increase security at the schools.
The decision to lock the front doors came after two separate threats were made by students to the school this fall. But Secondary Principal Brad King said that while those threats added a degree of urgency to the changes, he would have eventually made the change anyway.
“If you look at the events that have occurred throughout the country for years and years, everybody is looking at their facilities and saying, ‘Okay, how can I make this work better? How can I make this safer?’” he said.
Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations shows that active shooter events, where one or more people are attempting to kill others in a public area, are more than 20 times more common than they were two decades ago.
Staff at Petersburg High School and Mitkof Middle School now lock the front doors each day after school starts at 8:05 a.m. The doors have newly installed doorbells, an intercom system, and cameras, which the staff use to assess visitors.
King said most of the time people coming by the school are dropping off forgotten lunches or sports gear. But staff are learning what to watch for.
“We want to be aware of somebody who’s dressed in such a way where they might be concealing something and we want to see them more up close and personal before we open the door,” he said.
There are some complications. It’s hard to break students of the friendly habit of just opening the door for anyone standing outside. And shop class is in a different building altogether – administration is still figuring out how to make transitions between those classes as smooth as possible.
“It just takes a little bit of logistical work to make things like this happen,” he said. “It’s never perfectly comfortable for anybody, but it’s the price we pay for trying to keep the kids as safe as possible.”
King said he’d like to continue increasing security. He said the school eventually plans to change the entryway so that the front doors are visible to office staff, and they don’t have to rely on cameras to see people waiting outside. They also plan to install reflective glass on the windows of the first floor.
“The only way you know that safety features are working is when nothing happens. And that’s not the most overt indicator of success,” he said. “But if nothing happens, we’re doing pretty good.”
Stedman Elementary School plans to lock its front doors as well. Principal Heather Conn said in an email to parents Monday that while there is no date set for the change, the equipment is on order. She noted that the majority of school districts in the United States lock their front doors for safety reasons.
Money for the security upgrades comes from the school district’s maintenance and security funds. Administration is also hoping to get grant funding for future upgrades.