May 28, 2020

Schools plan security upgrades

Increased video monitoring, improved lockdown elements on tap for upcoming school year

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The State of Vermont is pumping $4 million at the outset of the upcoming school year into improved locks, video surveillance and other safety infrastructure at hundreds of schools statewide through a new school safety grant program.

Williston Central School and Allen Brook School will receive $24,930 and $22,196, respectively.

Safety improvements at the schools will be installed in the coming months after contractors are chosen, Williston Lead Principal Greg Marino said.

The following elements will be installed at Williston Central:

u Exterior surveillance cameras at all school entrances and the playground. Currently, only the main entrance of the school has video monitoring. The project will require the installation of about 10 exterior cameras.

u Interior cameras throughout the school’s hallways. About 20 hallway monitoring cameras will be installed. Marino said the footage will be viewable in real time by school administrators and town police through a secure web portal.

u Strobe lighting to provide a visual alert of any lockdown situation. The lighting will provide a visual lockdown cue in areas where the public announcement system can be difficult to hear, such as the gymnasium and cafeteria. Strobe lights will also be installed at exterior doors so anyone outside the building during a lockdown will be alerted to the situation.

The following elements will be installed at Allen Brook School:

u Roughly 12 exterior cameras to provide audio and visual monitoring of all school entrances and the playground. Currently, only the main entrance to the school has video monitoring. In addition, the back entrance of the school where school supplies are delivered will be outfitted with a video-capable doorbell.

u Interior door hardware that allows doors to be locked from the inside without a key. The improvement is expected to reduce the time it takes for classrooms to enter a lockdown. It will require changing locks on about 40 doors.

u Strobe lighting that will provide a visual alert to any lockdown situation, similar to the system planned for WCS, described above.

Funds under the grant program were distributed to 239 schools statewide in amounts ranging from less than $1,000 to $25,000, with the average award being $16,000. The funds will be distributed at the beginning of the school year, according to an announcement last week from the office of Gov. Phil Scott.

The grant program follows a statewide school safety assessment conducted last spring by a 12-member committee of school administrators, emergency responders and state legislators. The committee prioritized a list of measures schools could take to increase security for students, faculty and staff and provide better notification in the event of an emergency. The committee then evaluated grant applications from individual schools.

“We asked this committee to do a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time,” Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson said. “Without their dedication and hard work, we would not have been able to get these funds awarded in time for the upcoming school year.”

The funding was approved with bipartisan support during the spring legislative session.

“I am looking forward to seeing the results that will be achieved in our efforts to ensure we continue to have safe and healthy schools,” Rep. Butch Shaw of Brandon said in a press release. “The only thing our kids should have to worry about in school is whether or not they’ve completed their homework or prepared enough for the big test.”

Scott said an additional $1 million will be spent this fall through a federal Homeland Security grant on developing school emergency plans and conducting training and safety exercises.

“Getting these projects started quickly will help students, staff and administrators focus on learning,” Scott said. “Looking ahead, we will continue to do all we can to enhance the safety of our schools for our children, parents, faculty and the community, including … working with the Legislature to fund additional infrastructure improvements and preparedness across the entire education system.”