Thursday, March 30, 2023

School safety is on the ballot

by Katrina Venters, Polson High School
| March 2, 2023 12:00 AM

In April, all registered voters in the Polson School District will have the opportunity to vote on one or two bonds, one for the elementary district and one for the high school. To help voters make an informed decision, the Polson School Improvement Committee is presenting a series of short articles about the condition of the schools in these districts.

I’m Katrina Venters, a teacher at Polson High School. I’ve lived and worked in Polson since 2010, and I have two kids in the school district. As a mom and community member, I want to share some information with you so that you go into the election with plenty of information about our schools. Let’s start with safety.

What’s a common way to protect your home’s safety? For me, it’s a lock on all entry points, all doors and windows.

The federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency K-12 School Security Guide recommends essentially the same practice for schools: controlled entries to each building, ideally with only one main point of entry. According to the National Council for Education Statistics, by 2020, 97.1% of public schools in America followed this standard.

What percentage of Polson School District schools follow this standard? Only 50%. Worse, the high school has multiple unsecured access points open to anyone throughout the school day.

At both Cherry Valley and Linderman, visitors press a buzzer that alerts the main office staff who then open the door from the inside. If a person with bad intentions wanted to get in, they currently have the opportunity to lie over the intercom and then push past the staff member in charge of opening the door, putting staff and students in immediate danger as many students wait in these entries for parent pick-up or to see the office staff.

At the middle and high schools, all an intruder would have to do is walk right in. No direct monitoring systems exist at either building, so anyone who wants to enter these buildings for any reason can do so. Should people with the intent to harm students or staff stroll in, we could only look at security footage to determine their identities after the fact.

At all schools, staff do their best to monitor who enters the building and who should belong there. However, we don’t always know if someone is out of place. If intruders get in, staff are not prepared to take action against them in most cases.

Ultimately, we need more proactive solutions, and one is quite simple. Controlled entry points – the basic industry standard to protect student safety – would better ensure the security of our schools.

Passing the school bond will allow our schools to renovate and expand all front entries allowing for controlled exit and entry with updated security locks. Our schools could update other access points to provide controlled access to student areas. To further our students’ safety, we want to bring all the students in one building under one roof so that each building only needs one main entry.

You’ll learn more about this step in a future issue!

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