Vets want more school security
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · January 25, 2013

John Phillips walked into Hoover Elementary recently and noticed that no one greeted him at the door.

And as he walked through the halls, no one stopped to ask him what he was doing, or where he was going.

In light of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut a month before, Phillips became concerned, he said.

Two weeks ago, he and friend Al Eakes circled the building after hours and found two unlocked doors. They found the same at West Branch Middle School.

When he brought these concerns to the West Branch Board of Education on Jan. 14, the 66-year-old retired veteran offered to “do anything to help” with school security.

“We don’t want jails, we want more schools,” he said.

Phillips and fellow veteran Joanne Brookshear, as well as Mary McGee, wife of a veteran, all expressed similar concerns at the meeting.

Superintendent Kevin Hatfield said he appreciated their concerns and mentioned that the school on Jan. 15 implemented single-point access, locking all doors except one during school hours.

And, in the next year or so, he wants to upgrade some doors for more security.

Hatfield pointed out that the school district has cameras watching the main entrances and that police check doors each night.

The superintendent said the school is “moving toward” a system where staff must “buzz people in” yet still allows law enforcement easy access.

“We need to be vigilant all the time,” Hatfield said.

Board President Mike Owen also thanked them for sharing their concerns.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” he said of upgrading school security, and pointed out that the same bond issue that paid for new air conditioning also upgraded the security.

“I know you can’t have perfection,” Phillips said. “I wanted you to be aware. It needs to be looked at. I know you’re trying.”

McGee, who spent 30 years in education, said Iowa City Schools have hall monitors.

“(Substitute teachers) don’t always know all the kids,” she said. “It is an entirely different situation now than 10 years ago.”

Board member Kathy Knoop pointed out that eight of the 10 people at the board table — board members and administrators — “have kids in the district.”

“That guides our planning,” she said.

Board member Richard Paulus said his acting troupe tours schools all throughout the area, and about half of them require visitors to be buzzed in.

“Parents will have to accommodate that, too,” he said. “They’ll need patience.”

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