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Anchorage School District talks about how to make elementary schools more secure

Published: May. 26, 2022 at 7:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The recent school shooting in Texas has some Anchorage parents wondering how secure their child’s elementary school is. The news that the shooter was able to access the school through an unlocked door has some wondering how easily that could happen in Anchorage.

Anchorage School District Maintenance and Operations Director Rob Holland explained that every elementary school in Anchorage is locked and secure during school hours. In other words, the doors are open during drop-off and pick-up times for parents, but once classes start, the doors are locked.

But some schools have an extra layer of security, which Holland called incredibly important for stopping an intruder. Schools that have a security vestibule require visitors to be buzzed in twice, the second time through a door that leads directly into the school office.

“If we can slow down a potential intruder we create response time,” Holland said. “If we can completely lock out an intruder then we are able to prevent whatever nefarious act would have occurred.”

Holland said 14 of the district’s 58 schools have security vestibules. Bonds that would have added the security feature to an additional 13 schools didn’t pass. Holland said the funding issue has slowed the project down until at least the summer of 2023.

“The reality is we can only pay for them as they’re funded in chunks, in pods,” he said. “If it were possible to do them all at once in one year that would something of a perfect world.”

The district says the need for security vestibules doesn’t extend to middle or high schools, since research shows school attacks at the secondary level are usually perpetrated by someone who is supposed to be inside the school.

Holland also pointed out that there are other things that elementary schools are doing to keep students safe. For example, every elementary school has a “panic button” located in the office that is a direct line to Anchorage police. Some schools also have a central lockdown button that closes all perimeter doors as well as hallway doors inside the school.

District officials say there are definitely things to be learned from the Texas school shooting. They plan to study what happened closely and make recommendations to the Anchorage School Board at their June 6 meeting. They also plan to go back to voters next spring and give bonds for security upgrades another try.

“So we will certainly put them on the next bond because they remain at the very top of our priority list for needs,” Holland said. “They’re certainly not a want, they’re definitely a need.”

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