Could it happen here? Schools have safety plans, but aren’t locked downPublished 12:03am Tuesday, December 18, 2012
By Julia Nagy/The Natchez Democrat
NATCHEZ — Every Miss-Lou school has a safety policy, several have security officers and others keep external doors locked, but no local school administrator is willing to say they can prevent what happened Friday in Newtown, Conn., from happening here.
In the Natchez-Adams School District, Superintentint Frederick Hill admits there are problems.
“The biggest worry of mine is we just have too many buildings with external entrances to them,” Hill said. “There are multiple entrance points on campus.”
Natchez High and Frazier Elementary are his biggest worries, with stand-alone buildings composing the entire campuses.
To compensate, the district’s campuses have approximately 10 security officers patrolling the grounds, with four at Natchez High School. The director of safety is in and out of every school throughout the day.
In addition, Hill said the district’s safety plan is updated yearly and includes lockdown drills for intruder situations.
“Rest assured, we are vigilant about monitoring our campuses,” Hill said.
Training for the staff happens yearly, to educate the staff on any updates in the plan.
“The key thing here is making sure we know what our actions are in the event if we have to go into lockdown mode,” Hill said. “Of course, it’s unfortunate what happened (in Connecticut). It’s caused us to take a look at our procedures in place and to ensure there are some workable plans.”
Concordia Parish School District Superintendent Paul Nelson said the schools within their district go through security training every year as well.
Among the 11 school sites in the district, there are five security officers. The district spends $100,000 a year on school security and is updating security camera systems.
But Nelson said even with security measures, shootings can still occur.
“(Schools) are not designed to be prisons,” Nelson said. “They’re meant to be open and inviting. Schools are large facilities, with plenty of avenues like windows or doors. It’s hard to provide security.”
Nelson said the district constantly looks at ways to improve security, such as making sure outlying areas of a school are locked and knowing all visitors on campus.
At Cathedral School in Natchez, emergency training is reviewed with faculty, not the students. The doors are locked at the start of school at 8 a.m. and security cameras are running. The only entrance into the school is being buzzed in through the main doors.
Principal Pat Sanguinetti said the school has a safety plan in place, but nothing is foolproof.
“How do you prepare for everything?” Sanguinetti said. “You train them to do something, but that might not be the right thing at the time.”
Sanguinetti said the school’s safety measures can only go so far.
“Are we going to start searching every person? No,” Sanguinetti said. “We have a safety plan in place, and we are going to continue to monitor how that works. We all know it can happen anywhere.”
Headmaster Les Hegwood of Trinity Episcopal Day School said all visitors must check in with the main office to be given a sticker name tag. Staff are instructed to alert the administration if someone is in the building about without one.
The school had a staff meeting Monday afternoon to discuss security protocol and follow the protocol prescribed by local law enforcement.
“Any sort of public space is going to be a little vulnerable,” Hegwood said. “All you can do is keep your eyes peeled during any sort of catastrophe. Because we are prepared to react, it makes us less vulnerable.”
Hegwood said it is important for parents to talk to their children about what happened in Connecticut, instead of letting them get their information only from the media.
“I think the best thing to do for your children is to turn the TV off,” Hegwood said. “I think parents should have the best gauge on what their kids are ready for.”
For Hegwood and other faculty members, safety is always considered.
“As an educator, these things are in the back of your mind,” Hegwood said. “Your heart goes out to these people. Here, personally, (we) hope to be a part of the solution to this sort of strange epidemic.”
Nelson said the schools in his district promote kindness and the golden rule, hoping acts of kindness will overcome.
“With the people we’ve seen at these shootings, they’re willing to go beyond any rational limit, and that’s what makes them so dangerous,” Nelson said.
“How do you control such raging hatred for mankind? If we can bring in more love and kindness, maybe that would battle these types of things.”