Re-1 has safety plans in place

In wake of tragedy, schools take stock of protocols

Keywords: Poll question,

Last Friday in Newtown, Conn., an armed man forced his way inside Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 26 people, including 20 young children.

The killing spree cast a somber tone over the holiday season and prompted school officials across the nation to review their safety policies.

"This is the saddest, scariest thing in the world. It's the type of incident that scares the heck out of you as an administrator," said Alex Carter, superintendent for Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1.

In a bitterly ironic twist, principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the attack, took measures to upgrade security at Sandy Hook just months ago. According to CNN, the new system required visitors arriving after 9:30 a.m. - when doors were automatically locked - to identify themselves via a doorbell intercom. A video camera was also positioned above the front door. Those buzzed inside then had to show ID to front office staff.

The shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, forcibly entered Sandy Hook at about 9:30 a.m.

Carter said Re-1 wasn't altering any safety policies at this time. He expressed confidence in the district's protocols and personnel.

"This district is the most prepared for emergency situations of any district I've worked. That said, there is nothing you can do to eliminate all danger," he said.

Administrators face a "fine line," he added, between keeping buildings accessible to parents and other legitimate visitors on one hand, and keeping students safe from danger on the other.

Mark Knox heads up Re-1's District Safety Management Team. He said each school is mandated to practice mock-lockdown scenarios twice a year to simulate reactions to hostile intruders.

"When you call a lockdown, it is presumed the threat is on the inside. Teachers lock their doors, secure the room and gather the kids into the safest corner," Knox said.

They remain quiet and still until the threat is neutralized and an emergency responder or school administrator unlocks the classroom door. Teachers are instructed to not open the door under any circumstance, in case the intruder is attempting a trick or is holding a hostage.

"No matter what happens - a fire alarm gets pulled, somebody gets on the PA system and says the lockdown is over, somebody knocks on the door and says its safe - it stays shut," Knox said. "Literally the room is opened up by a responder with a key."

Only one teacher needs to give the signal, over the PA system, for a lockdown to be mobilized school-wide. Once in motion, police are notified.

Knox said Re-1 has never experienced a real lockdown, but has responded to several "lockouts," where the threat is external, such as a bank robbery or other criminal activity occurring nearby.

If they deem the neighborhood unsafe, school officials secure the perimeter by locking exterior doors, closing window blinds and summoning any children playing outside. Classes can then proceed normally unless otherwise stated.

Under current policy, each school building in Re-1 has only one unlocked door during business hours - the main door near the front office, where visitors must sign-in with the receptionist.

"They are funneled through the main entry. Once inside, you're trying to restrict movements until the visitor checks in through the proper channels," Knox said. "They can't just wander around."

The district employs two full-time school resource officers, who are armed. Instead of permanent postings, they rotate between schools as required.

"Short of having a metal detector and security zones where every individual is screened, which is a little (overreaction), you'll always have a degree of vulnerability," Knox said.

In 2008, the district won a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Safety to send personnel from Kemper Elementary, Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School to Washington, DC, where they received "multi-hazard emergency" training from the Department of Homeland Security. Thanks to a separate grant, the district now owns a number of two-way radios that teachers can use to patch into police and fire dispatch frequencies.

Carter said a reliable, state-of-the-art security system will be a "top consideration" during the new high school design phase.

"Frankly, the poor state of safety and security at the current high school was one of the main reasons we received the BEST grant. It needed to be addressed," he said.

The website that promoted passage of the 3B bond measure cites "unauthorized entry" as a major concern in the existing M-CHS. Specifically, it lists multiple unsecured roof entry points, 21 exterior entry doors without alarms, a surveillance system consisting of a single video camera "monitored part-time when possible by (an) assistant principal, and limited line of site of main entry from the front office.

lukeg@cortezjournal.com