Photo by Phoebe Monsour.
Photo by Phoebe Monsour.

Closing doors, securing entrances: Manual’s new safety policies

Mr. Darryl Farmer, Manual’s principal, prompted teachers to close their doors during the entirety of the school day and announced that students were to only enter the building through approved and regulated entrances last week during morning announcements.

Farmer later explained that the changes were mandated by the district and/or the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS), however, RedEye reporters found no written requirements or other documents that recently sanctioned such safety reinforcements.

Kentucky Revised Statute 158 (KRS 158) from early 2013 is “an act relating to school safety,” and is the only official legislation in the state that mentions closing doors during the school day.

It reads: “[…] each local board of education shall require the school council, or if none exists, the principal in each public school building to […]: develop and adhere to practices to control the access to each school building. Practices may include but not be limited to: controlling outside access to exterior doors during the school day; controlling the front entrance of the school electronically or with a greeter; controlling access to individual classrooms. If a classroom is equipped with hardware that allows the door to be locked from the outside but opened from the inside, the door should remain locked during instruction time.”

The section goes on to address “requiring all visitors to report to the front office” and “providing [visitor badges].” The bill concludes roughly 14 pages later and mentions that “no later than Nov. 1 of each school year, a local district superintendent shall send verification to the Kentucky Department of Education that all schools within the district are in compliance with the requirements.”

Other safety precautions in Kentucky public schools

Many schools in Jefferson County and throughout the state are attempting to address school safety amid headlines of school shootings and various threats of violence.

WDRB reported in June that the KCSS executive director “says some schools have looked at installing metal detectors, having staff check students’ backpacks or arming school personnel, among other possibilities.”

Experts in school and public safety have appeared in front of the Kentucky General Assembly and the Kentucky Education Committee several times this year to discuss the possibility of making changes to the physical structure of schools and the training of teachers.

Among other solutions, school resource officers, often referred to as SROs, are one of the most debated solutions to the gun violence epidemic. Other proposed solutions include cutting back on the number of suspensions and expulsions, banning “assault-style weapons” at the federal level and hiring mental health counselors — something that Jefferson County Public Schools is looking to add to the annual budget.

While parents and school administrators are looking for new and innovative ways to secure schools, their students and their faculty, some high school students on social media have reacted to new policies calling them devices that sensationalize and normalize school shootings.

Following the shooting in Santa Fe, Texas TIME Magazine reporters wrote that “all that was left was the haunting certainty that we will live through this again soon.”

Teens responded to the story and to other statements on Twitter saying that the problem was the lack of restrictive gun legislation in Congress, not school safety.

Interpretations of safety

Manual teachers and students who are now required to follow new policies are divided on whether or not the strategies will work to protect students.

“The concept is great, the implementation is going to be awful,” Ms. Cindy Shiroma (Latin) said, mentioning the old heating and cooling system at Manual.

Closed classroom doors will lock body heat and hot air from air conditioning units in classrooms during the winter months causing students to feel faint, make mistakes and feel drowsy.

“Last year, I had kids become faint because it was so hot [in the classroom],” Shiroma said.

Students on the other hand, who have watched school shootings unfold from miles away on social media and on 24-hour cable news networks, are willing to comply despite their feelings toward the policies.

“I’m going to follow [the rules] but I think [the policies] are annoying,” Eli Pajo (12, J&C) said. “It’s a small scale solution to a systemic problem. It’s like putting a bandaid on a dam that’s starting to bust and calling it fixed while water shoots you in the eye.”

The exact intent of the policies lies in a gray area for some students. Whether they will be used to keep out armed intruders, unwanted visitors or will be used simply to keep entrances and the access to students more regulated, students believe that they can only go so far.

“I think the increased strictness with the entrances and exits actually does make the school somewhat safer,” Ian Cobb (12, YPAS) said. “But it can only do so much. I’m not entirely sure how [having] all the doors locked at all times is going to keep out an intruder, especially an armed one.”

Of course, there will always be new ways to make students safe and new ideas and attempts to eliminate gun violence in schools, but many Manual students are looking past safety to the possible root of the problem.

“[These rules] act as a security blanket so we all get to feel like we’re contributing to a solution when we’re not,” Pajo said.

The policies are fairly new, however, some students are already feeling more safe within the building.

“Although the methods may not be incredibly effective, I do appreciate the effort being made to protect us,” Cobb said. “Not every school cares enough to do something.”

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