Mesa schools work to beef up security with new fences, other measures - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Mesa schools work to beef up security with new fences, other measures

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Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2013 7:57 am | Updated: 8:53 am, Thu Feb 21, 2013.

Safety at Mesa schools could be improved by adding fencing, replacing chainlink fences with wrought iron fences and relocating offices to the exteriors of campus, the district’s security director told the governing board Tuesday night.

After December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Mesa Unified School District moved up plans to do a site-by-site analysis of all the district’s campuses. Al Moore, Mesa’s director of security, led the effort and gave the first presentation.

While noting that proper fencing will improve security, Moore also told board members that “terrorist” acts like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School would be difficult to defend against.

“Someone who is intent to carry out an act that like will do it,” he said.

But the district can take steps to stop “opportunists” who may try to harm a child in an area that either doesn’t have fencing or has inadequate fencing.

“I think overall what we need to do is focus first on our elementary schools. Our junior highs and high schools have SROs (school resource officers) assigned to them,” he said. There are also 10 district security personnel who patrol the 51 neighborhood elementary schools, as well as the specialty campuses like the East Mesa Early Childhood Education Center.

There are seven elementary campuses where visitors have to walk onto campus to check in at the office, he said. “You already passed kids and classrooms to get to the office,” he told the board.

Working with staff, Moore said there have been low-cost ways identified to move the main entrance for those schools closer to the exterior.

Fencing also could be improved at the junior high and senior high schools, Moore’s report states.

All improvements will require funding. School Superintendent Mike Cowan said the board can access funds approved by voters in November as part of a $230 million bond package.

“There are recommendations in here. We need to identify what is most important and prudent for us to maintain and continue safety for our students,” he said.

The district is also looking at “safety protocols, procedures and practices,” such as what identification is needed by someone to come onto campus and how visitors sign in and out. That analysis could curb other potential safety issues, school board members said.

“I do think if we look at the recommendations, as well as the practices and procedures, we can certainly provide a more secure campus,” said Bruce Cox, the district’s associate superintendent.

While the district could build 8-foot-block walls with wire on them, that’s not what they - or the community - wants, board members said.

Moore noted as much in his report.

“This is not practical,” he said of those types of walls.

Board president Mike Nichols, a military veteran, said he served in communities around the world where those are the types of security measures are in place at schools.

“We live in a free country. I don’t want to see concertina wire around our schools. I hate those situations,” he said. He acknowledged schools like Mesa are taking more steps to secure schools, but he hopes procedures, and mental health services, will also improve.

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