At Tuesday’s meeting, the Richmond school board members will be presented with a formal proposal for construction of a Dear Elementary tornado shelter and digital security cameras at all four school buildings. Superintendent Jim Robins says the aim is making schools safer.
“We’re responsible for 1,600 students. We do need safer buildings,” he said at Wednesday’s Safety Meeting, comprising school officials, educators, clergy and local law enforcement.
The tornado shelter would roughly be the size of a gymnasium and used as an activity room as well. The estimated cost for the project is around $800,000. Federal agency FEMA would cover two-thirds of the expense, Robins said. He said it would be up to the board whether to utilize $200,000 for the shelter or to borrow additional money to do the surveillance system also.
Jeff Southwick, director of facilities and athletics for the schools, said School Resource Officers (SRO) have gone throughout each building and addressed their concerns on safety. School administration has one proposal in hand to install 21 digital security cameras in and outside the facility and a keyless entry system for the high school. Visitors would have to push a button and speak into an intercom to be allowed into the building. The price tag is around $45,000.
“I think it’s awesome, especially with the buzzer to deter and delay,” said SRO Tracy Rogers.
RHS Assistant Principal Martin Griffin said he believes there may be “quite a few” grants available to offset the cost of the security system.
The school district has had security cameras in school buses for 15 years and switched to digital DVRs in recent years. Donnie Fowler, owner of Fowler Bus Co., is a proponent for digital security cameras and said they have clear pictures, unlike the former technology, which was fuzzy and of poor quality. Fowler said the cameras haven’t stopped misbehavior on buses, but has made it easy to prove individuals involved in incidents.
Another topic of discussion was what Robins called “the number 1 discipline problem” at Richmond schools – bullying. He sees bullying tied to school violence and asked if people in attendance agreed. They did.
Bullying can be found as early as kindergarten, said Dear Principal Carole Garth. She says her staff watches for signs, which is usually invading other student’s physical space. Aggressive students are taught more acceptable behaviors; some are counseled. She also said teachers are being asked to re-think what it means when a student “tattles” on another for their behavior.
Pam Miller, who is touted as “the bully buster” at Sunrise Elementary, says they go to individual classes with bullies and address the issue upfront.
Sporadic episodes of bullying are documented at the middle school, according to Piper Peterson, vice principal. Repeat offenders are either disciplined with in-school or out-of-school suspensions.
Nearly every educator emphasized that bullying goes beyond physical confrontation, and computers and cell phones have made it easier to torment targeted students.
“With the technology today, they might as well change Facebook to Bullybook. It’s vicious – and text messages, too,” said Griffin.
At times, he and an SRO officer will bring the two parties face-to-face in his office. Their support can help the bullied student to confront their aggressor, and says this approach has worked well. Griffin also said the school encourages other kids to stand up for the people who are getting harassed.
Bullying goes beyond students. Robins said the school must also address school personnel who bully students and other adults employed at the school.
Robins asked for Richmond Police Chief Terry McWilliams’ input on additional avenues the school can take for bullying. She suggested they contact their insurance provider for additional training in this area.
Another safety concern is bomb threats. An Oct. 1 bomb threat at the middle school was considered viable, and the building was evacuated. Police cleared the building and students were moved to Southview Park, the planned and practiced drill for this kind of situation. The student who made the threat was suspended for the remainder of the school year. Robins asked the group for feedback on the district’s policy, which takes all bomb threats seriously and gives long-term suspensions to students involved. The group said they support the district’s policy.