A pattern of inconsistency in security measures at district schools has been cited in a report prepared in the aftermath of last fall's Connecticut school shooting.
The report, to be discussed at tonight's regular school board meeting, points to the need for a more thorough approach to school lockdown drills, locking of doors while classes are in session and school visitors.
An assumption that it can't happen here may be the single greatest obstacle to improving safety and security, the report states.
Michelle Marginet, the school district's manager of health and safety, worked on the review with a cross-section committee of school representatives after Supt. Terry Sullivan requested the review.
More than any similar incident in recent years, the calamitous shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, where 20 children and six staff were massacred, shook the collective conscience in 2012. The tragedy spurred the greatest gun-control backlash the U.S. has ever seen and fuelled nationwide debate before a federal bill was narrowly defeated.
"It was a tremendous wake-up call to Canada and the U.S. that this happens in safe communities, too," Marginet said. "We need to pay attention to what's going on in Canada and the U.S. It's a chance to be preventive and proactive rather than reactive."
The committee found that district schools are "very safe and that's good," yet there are inconsistencies in the practice of existing policies. That's partly due to the number of schools, but also to a general perception that the surrounding communities are relatively safe.
It doesn't mean the issue is not taken seriously, Marginet stressed. Every school has personnel trained in VTRA - Violence Threat Risk Assessment.
"Safety and security are a No. 1 priority for every person in the school district. There's no doubt. But there does come a complacency when, happily, nothing ever happens."
There is another disincentive - lockdown drills can alarm young children. While that's unfortunate, it may need to be viewed as bitter medicine.
"If drills and exercises are not practised, then what is a bad situation can become 10 times worse."
The report also examines the practice of locking school doors while classes are in session. Again, there is inconsistency.
"It's a practice that's absolutely in place, but over time it becomes a bit lax," Marginet said.
Other potential security measures cited in the report will require board discussion and budgeting.
For example, most schools still rely on conventional keyed entry for access. Those keys are hard to track and can be lost. Adopting a modern, electronic fob system would provide a greater measure of security, since the fobs can be remotely cancelled.
"Most of our schools were built in a similar era, when this was not an issue," Marginet said.
Agreement among the various stakeholders is seen as a priority before the report's recommendations can be adopted.