school safety

Buckeye school districts take campus safety measures

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BUCKEYE — With last week’s Uvalde, Texas student and teacher massacre still fresh in their minds, administrators at two school districts in the Southwest Valley will move ahead this summer with efforts to keep campuses safer.

Liberty Elementary School District 25 will impose new measures in the 2022-23 school year that will include school IDs, while the Buckeye Union High School District is still in the studying and budgeting phase.

Buckeye Elementary School District leadership hasn’t responded to similar inquiries, as of this writing.

The Liberty district, which includes K-8 students across seven campuses in Buckeye and Goodyear, has plans to implement student IDs widely across the district beginning when the 2022-23 school year begins in August. District spokesman Luke Garrison said administrators are still reviewing which grade levels will be required to carry IDs.

A state law requires school districts to work with local law enforcement agencies and emergency response agencies to develop an emergency response plan for each school in the school district in accordance with minimum Arizona Department of Education and military affairs standards. Garrison said Liberty’s plan can be found here: tinyurl.com/mt489z69

Garrison said the district has assembled emergency plans unique to each campus. He also said the district has distributed to parents a standard protocol for active shooter situations produced by the I Love U Guys Foundation, copyrighted 2017, that includes a step-by-step guide to incident response.

The guide makes several distinctions between what to do for “lockout” and “lockdown” situations. Lockout involve threats outside school buildings and emphasize carrying on with a school day, not placing student’s focus on the threat, whereas lockdown involves turning off lights, staying out of view from outside each classroom and remaining silent.

Liberty also sent out a letter to parents after the Uvalde massacre. This letter reminded parents the district not only has campus-specific evacuation and emergency plans, but also locked entry doors, school resource officers assigned to district schools, crisis-alert software that notifies school employees immediately on personal hand-held devices and regular practice of lockdown and fire drills in collaboration with local fire and police departments.

Steve Bebee said he’s used his first year as Buckeye Union High School District superintendent to assess the needs of its three high schools and a learning center. He said a full and comprehensive emergency plan hasn’t been completed but he has some solid ideas on helpful hardware, and is gathering cost estimates this summer.

“In light of COVID, funding has been a tight ship,” Bebee said. “And you’ve got to have money to install most things.”

Long before the Uvalde massacre, Bebee said, he has been talking with the district’s facilities supervisor getting quotes on the cost of a system for locking doors. Bebee wants a system in which classroom doors can be locked from the inside — lockable by the push of a button by someone inside the classroom.

He also wants to implement a district policy of having classroom doors locked during class each school day.

“We aren’t seeing school shooters breeching locked doors,” Bebee said. “A lot of this is procedure and training and drills.”

When asked if locked doors creates new problems with everyday school operations, Bebee said no.

“Not once in my years at Cave Creek did we have an issue with locked doors,” Bebee said. “It’s a but of an inconvenience, yes, but a trade I’m willing to make for safety.”

Bebee said he’s also gathering estimates on the cost of a safety corridor with forced stops where visitors are only buzzed in by school staff.

He is also looking at systems produced by Raptor Technologies and other companies that track the whereabouts of each person on campus, starting upon entry.

Bebee said he’s assessing perimeter fencing. This is a challenge, he said, because fire codes require gates with push bars to prevent students and staff from getting stuck on campus.

He said the key elements of any new hardware or software, once again, require excellent training, high staffing levels and ratios and adherence to routine.

“You can always prop open a gate or door open with a rock,” Bebee said. “As a staff, you’ve got to keep moving around and paying attention.”

Bebee said he knows there must be a district-wide emergency plan.

“My predecessor didn’t make those things a priority,” Bebee said. “It’s on of our biggest challenges. I have taken time to really assess district to make a little safer. In the meantime, we continue to have fire drills once a month, and to communicate among staff on safety issues that come up.”

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