Safety in School: Students and Officers

Ensuring the safety of BVHS, Randall locks the inner doors by the front office.

Ensuring the safety of BVHS, Randall locks the inner doors by the front office.

Matt Antonic, Sports Editor

As Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold unleashed their years of pent up frustration at the world with guns and homemade bombs on the innocent students and teachers at Columbine High School, they simultaneously started a revolution on the long-simmering topic of school safety.

The international news coverage from the rampage, the third-worst school shooting in US History, drastically altered policies aimed at modern day school safety. The general public, after years of smaller scale incidents, was finally made aware of the growing problem of school violence, and school administrators around the nation answered the calls to respond.

In schools around the country, fences went up, cameras went in and doors were seemingly slammed shut. Unlucky students may be wished a good morning with a trip through the metal detector. General paranoia changed policies relating to school safety forever, justified as necessary to protect innocents from outside monsters. The problem of violence in schools had finally gained the full attention from students and administrators alike,

But just how much has this safety revolution affected Blue Valley High, a school tucked away in the safety of the JoCo Bubble? Now that the problem is out in the open and often publicly discussed, have any real changes been made, and is BVHS adequately protected from threats, inside and out? Has Blue Valley always been adequately protected from threats? Blue Valley has several significant security measures that protect the building, many different to schools around the country. From parking to security cameras, and School Resource Officers to the student body itself, Blue Valley High School is in a league of its own compared to the District, and the rest of the United States.

School Resource Officer Dennis Randall has been a staple of BV School Security for many years. Armed with his firearm, taser and closely cropped mustache, Randall and partner Ken Braden are responsible for maintaining safety and order in the school, especially in the often chaotic hallways.

“[We] make sure everything’s going according to plan during passing periods, that’s why [the students] see us during passing periods,” Randall said.

The SROs also said they ensure the school facilities are secured at all times during the school day.

“We make sure the doors are secured, and we check them all the time to make sure when kids leave they don’t prop the doors open and stuff like that — we don’t want somebody from the outside coming in that shouldn’t be in the building.”

The SROs office at the very front of the school allows excellent viewpoints at traffic flowing in and out of the school.

Inside the office is a collection of tools used to preserve school safety, including the officer’s firearms, radios, computers, and, most notably, the security camera monitors.

Around BVHS, each hallway is enhanced by a security camera to monitor activities. These cameras have several monitors, all viewable by the SRO team in their office. However, the officers said they prefer probable cause before looking for evidence of wrong-doing on the footage.

The cameras inside the school run continuously during the school day.

The school also installed cameras outside the school, including in the often chaotic student parking lot. Randall said these cameras have come in handy for investigating a few car accidents.

“The cameras in the parking lot come in handy. We’ve had a couple of accidents that actually the cameras have been in just the right spot,” Randall said.

With more than 600 Blue Valley students parking each day in the crowded school lot, the security cameras are an important tool in maintaining safety, as well as investigating any unfortunate incidents.

Another key aspect of Blue Valley security was installed at the end of the 2012 school year; fencing surrounding the mobile classrooms were built to secure the area. Randall said these fences were installed to enhance security that was previously lacking.

“That was for the security — we had no way of securing the 500 and the 200 doors cause kids had to come and go from the mobiles. So the school district opted to put the fences around and we lock the gates.”

With the installations, all doors to the school are now locked or guarded during the school day. Randall said the gates are open in the morning to allow people to enter the school without inconvenience.

“The gates are open in the morning for people to come, teachers mainly, because students aren’t allowed to park over there anyway — to come through, and then we lock the gates so that it’s just a one way — you know they go out, they can’t come back in,” he said.

Randall said the gates have helped stop the occasional senior from parking in the staff lot and entering through the senior doors, ensuring that faculty are not hindered from parking.

“Seniors would come and there’d be no spot for them to park so they’d come back here and park in the staff lot because they could come in through the senior hallway doors. Well, that {the fence} defeated that.”

When discussing the history of BV School Security during his tenure, Randall observed that Blue Valley has always been very well protected from threats. While many schools began playing catch-up after Columbine and Sandy Hook, Randall said BV was ahead of the game.

“We’re pretty much already safety oriented, and our measures are in place where hopefully something like Columbine or Sandy Hook couldn’t happen.” Randall said

BV stands out because students are willing to come forward about potential threats to the SRO’s to be dealt with before disaster occurs.

“Our students come and let us know,” he said. “That’s the good thing about Blue Valley High School, the kids are well aware of the potential that could happen and people come and talk to us all the time. They would come to us and let us know cause they don’t want to see the person that might be bringing the gun to school get hurt, and they definitely don’t want to see somebody else get hurt.”

Randall said previous school incidents were a known risk before hand.

“What happened with Columbine and these other schools is that kids just didn’t pay attention to it,” Randall said. “So it’s my suggestion for the kids is, you know, don’t hesitate to come in and talk to us.”

Administrator Matt Ortman said he believes BVHS is safe compared to other schools.

“I definitely believe that our school is safer than most schools around the country,” he said.

Ortman credited the officers, administration and students for making the school feel secure.

“Part of it has to do with our officers and administration, but also our kids have done a good job of making good decisions and feeling connected at school,” he said.

Blue Valley, owing to its location in relatively safe Southeast Johnson County, has largely been able to avoid having to install extreme safety devices, such as metal detectors or buzz-in systems. Many students would undoubtedly be upset if such actions were taken.

Sophomore Ethan Toles said he would be worried if the school took the extreme measure such as installing metal detectors, or ordering random shakedowns of students.

“I would be extremely upset about it,” Toles said. “I would probably not come to school if my personal privacy is being thrown out the windows for ‘safety purposes’.”

Toles added that he believes the security cameras are adequate enough, and that he feels better about his property.

“I feel a little safer knowing that if I leave my backpack in the fixed forum or by the front windows that someone is watching it, even if I’m not,” he said.

However, Toles does not believe that the presence of School Resource Officers significantly adds to the general safety of the school.

“The fact that they’re standing there watching us all the time actually makes me nervous that something bad is bound to happen because of them being here,” Toles said.

Junior Kaine Sarno disagreed, and said the officers are beneficial.

“The officers do a good job of making the school safe and secure,” Sarno said.

Junior Sarah Olson agreed. “I feel safe because we have the two officers and security cameras.”

Subtle signs remain around BV of newer initiatives to prevent violence before it occurs. Anti-bullying posters and suicide prevention signs are visible in each hallway and corridor of the school.

Trained psychologists help identify potentially troubled students before they decide to act. Public Service Announcements, seminars, and countless dollars worth of advertising attempt to get the message to students to report problems before they become disasters. The school, and its student body, have been void of any in-school violence in it’s storied history.

BV, like every other schools, has changed in the school safety revolution, and is inspected often to ensure peace and stability. Time will only tell if the school will continue to pass.