Security a continuing focus in local schools

MARQUETTE – Area schools are continuing to upgrade their security systems as national headlines call attention to mass shootings across the nation.

Father Marquette Middle School recently finished a security upgrade to its building, adding an intercom system at the front doors along with cameras placed at the front doors, back doors and hallways. In addition, both the back and front doors are locked at the start of the school day and remain locked throughout the day.

Father Marquette Elementary School is currently undergoing installation of a similar system.

The security systems are being paid for through fundraising efforts from the St. Louis the King Church in Harvey as well as the diocesan-wide “Our Faith in the Future” capital campaign.

Father Marquette Middle School Principal Maryann Ferns said “every student’s safety is our priority,” and that security upgrades have been on-going for the past three or four years.

“It’s a sign of our times,” Ferns said. “It’s the world we live in.”

Marquette Area Public Schools has also been steadily upgrading its buildings, adding secure doors at each of its buildings that remain locked throughout the school day.

This is being done ahead of millions of dollars worth of other capital projects the district has identified because of the high priority school safety has taken in the wake of recent school shootings like the one in December at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newport, Conn.

Schools within NICE Community Schools have undergone and will undergo minor renovations – as has Bothwell Middle School in Marquette – to funnel the flow of traffic from the building’s main doors to the office, so administrative personnel can physically see the people being let inside.

NICE Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said the district is also in the process of installing 16 new security cameras to complement the ones already in use both inside and outside the school buildings.

Many other districts in the area have added video systems similar to the one being used at the Father Marquette schools, such as Gwinn Area Community Schools.

Others have also changed the interior of their buildings, like in Ishpeming Public Schools, which has looked at replacing classroom doors to remove as much glass as possible.

Schools in the area also keep exterior doors locked throughout the day.

With 20 years of experience as superintendent, Negaunee Superintendent Jim Derocher said he’s seen changes in the way parents and the community at large thinks of the safety of school children.

“There was never any issue with school safety in my earlier years,” Derocher said. “Once parents dropped their students off at bus stops or dropped them off at the school, we felt that students were safe in the buildings.”

Back then, doors were left open all day, Derocher said, noting it was until roughly 10 years ago when people began to see school buildings as unsafe for children.

That’s when lock-down drills began to be encouraged by local law enforcement, so staff would know what to do and where to go should an intruder enter.

Derocher, whose district has also added a video security system to its buildings, attributed some of the public push for security upgrades in schools to the wide coverage given to mass-shootings in the country by the media.

“I think the students always felt safe in schools – that was the one place they felt safe, was when they came to school,” Derocher said. “Now, with more and more of the violence happening, and of course the media paying attention to the violence, having to lock-down buildings I think helps (students) to feel safer in their buildings now.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.