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TV Security Report Prompts Corrected ‘Mistakes’

Although a recent TV report revealed weaknesses in Rockford schools’ security system, Superintendent Michael Shibler said he’s not sorry he cooperated with the project.

“I don’t see this as we failed miserably,” Shibler said after the Feb. 11 WOOD TV8 investigative story. “I saw this as an opportunity to identify where we made mistakes and how to correct them.”

Those corrections were made the same day reporters went into six school buildings to test their security procedures, Shibler said. Further, a local Department of Homeland Security official who saw the report contacted Shibler to offer his services.

That official will provide input into security upgrades if voters approve a May 6 bond proposal that includes $11.1 million in safety improvements. The security lapses shown by TV8 would not have happened if the district already had those upgrades, Shibler said.

He consented to the report to see if staffers were following procedures correctly, and watched on monitors as reporters and producers entered the buildings with hidden cameras.

In Rockford, all school doors are locked during the school day except the front door, and classrooms are supposed to be locked as well. Security guards are posted by the door at the secondary schools, and chimes ring in the office when someone enters an elementary building. Cameras cover entrances too.

Despite those measures, TV8 reporters were able to walk freely in three buildings for more than four minutes before being questioned – including 15 minutes at North Rockford Middle. Shibler called the breaches “unacceptable.”

“It was a wake-up call,” he said later. “Now everybody understands what the expectation is.”

Case by Case

At North Rockford Middle, a security guard normally posted at the door was checking other parts of the building and forgot to tell office staff she was leaving. In the future, someone from the office will take her place in those instances, Shibler said.

At the Freshman Center, the security guard was standing in the cafeteria during lunch hour when the tester entered. The guard now has his desk outside the cafeteria door so he can see the front door during lunch.

At Belmont, a tester walked by the office instead of checking in to get a pass. A secretary is supposed to stop such visitors, but one was at lunch and the other busy with a student or parent. The tester walked down each hallway before being stopped by a paraprofessional. Shibler said he later told administrators that visitors must be “confronted immediately, without question” if they do not stop at the office.

At Cannonsburg Elementary, by contrast, the system worked as intended: The tester passed the office but was stopped immediately by a secretary.

Less serious breaches occurred at East Rockford Middle and the High School. At East Rockford, the security guard was on lunch break but office staff didn’t know she had left, Shibler said. A teacher stopped the tester within 50 feet. At the high school, the guard was dealing with an unruly student when the tester entered but stopped him within a minute and a half.

The system at the high school “worked the way it’s supposed to,” Shibler said, while office personnel at East Middle have been directed to be on alert whenever the security guard is elsewhere in the building.

Bond Would Increase Safety

Following the report, a Homeland Security official toured the buildings and offered to help with building redesigns if the May 6 bond request passes, Shibler added. Rockford Police will also be involved.

The $76.1 million total request includes major facility upgrades to reduce the schools’ vulnerability to human error. It would build shatter-proof security vestibules at entrances, and require visitors be buzzed into the office before entering hallways.

“You can’t have a 100 percent fail-safe system,” Shibler said. “But this provides a significantly safer environment to protect students and staff.”

CONNECT

TV8 report on school security

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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