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Editor’s note: The following article discusses school shootings and shows images of school shooting simulations.
After events like the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in May that left 21 dead, parents and teachers across the U.S. worry about what’s being done to prevent more deaths.
We’ve broken down Wichita school safety plans after speaking with USD 259, Wichita Collegiate School and Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, learning more about plans for preventing school intruders and how those plans compare to what the Wichita teachers union is requesting.
What safety measures do teachers want?
Earlier this year, United Teachers of Wichita (UTW), the local teachers union, approached the USD 259 school board with two requests: lockable classroom doors and a more robust front door check-in system.
“We have expressed to the school board our expectation that entry into our buildings be secured,” said UTW President Brent Lewis. “This is generally the case, we just want to make sure that this is true everywhere.”
Secured entry means any person who wants to enter a school must provide identification. It also means no visitor can enter the building without being allowed in by a school employee at a supervised entry point.
“We also expect classrooms and office spaces to have the functionality to lock from within,” Lewis said. “The district has rolled out interior locks for part of the buildings, but we expect this to be districtwide.”
Lewis also said that personally, he would like a reliable connection to local law enforcement and the capacity to refer students to mental health services they need.
What are the crisis plans for Wichita school safety?
There is no unified crisis plan among all schools in and around Wichita. However, most schools have the same basic structure of what they train teachers and students to do.
Wichita Public Schools, Wichita Collegiate and Bishop Carroll all train teachers to do the following:
- Shut and lock your classroom door if possible.
- Have students crouch or sit in a corner away from the view of the door.
- Wait for an opportunity to leave or leave when a law enforcement officer comes to the classroom.
At Wichita Collegiate, a card reader is used and a button is pressed when a suspicious person enters the school. It allows for automatic locking of all exterior doors. A message then plays over the speaker telling students the school is in lockdown.
USD 259 has a three-word system on what should be done called “Run, hide, fight.”
“Something I can tell you is there is no set ‘this is the next step,’” said Terri Moses, division director of safety and environmental services at Wichita Public Schools. “Everything needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
When teachers in a USD 259 building are alerted of a threat in the building, they first determine whether there is a safe and easy escape route. This is the first step: “run.”
If there’s no way to get out of the building, then they try “hide.” Doors are locked and students crouch in a corner away from the door.
If all else fails, Wichita Public Schools instructs teachers to use whatever they can find in their rooms to protect their students, or “fight.”
Wichita Collegiate also instructs teachers to do this.
“Not too long ago we had the local police come in and train teachers,” said Nathan Washer, head of Wichita Collegiate School. “They were shown how to use whatever they could find to keep someone away from their students.”
How do Wichita schools prevent school shootings?
USD 259, Wichita Collegiate and Bishop Carroll run multiple drills each year to prepare students and teachers for school shooter evacuations. Each school system has different ways to prevent intruder access.
Bishop Carroll has “hall captains” who are staff and teachers trained to monitor hallways for any suspicious activity.
Wichita Collegiate uses a scanning system.
“We have an electronic card system,” Washer said. “Only people that are given an electronic card that is given by the school can gain access through our front doors – basically any of our doors – in our four buildings.”
Visitors must request access into Wichita Collegiate by pressing a buzzer and waiting for staff to retrieve them.
Wichita Public Schools has a similar door system as well as an additional visitor management system to flag people who shouldn’t enter the building, like registered sex offenders.
USD 259 also has a robust radio system. Other prevention measures include cameras, fences and monitoring technology within all three of the school systems.
Mental health as prevention
USD 259 identifies one of its major steps for stopping a school shooting as “prevention,” and a portion of that prevention comes from mental health services in schools, said Moses.
In a presentation to the board of education, school district data showed 72 percent of students receiving mental health support were attending class more and 64 percent were better at addressing their problems in healthy ways.
Additionally, Wichita Public Schools partners with COMCARE to provide mental health intervention on-site in some buildings
“We are removing barriers that families may have in regards to seeking help,” Moses said.
Bishop Carroll has counselors and a chaplain for students. Bishop Carroll President Leticia Nielsen said they also rely on community.
“We have a community helping system where our students are broken down into houses,” Nielsen said. “They have a house mentor that meets with them about four times a week. Normally the parent, teacher or counselor reach out and we can team up to help.”
Wichita Collegiate is starting to use Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence RULER system. They also have four counselors on-site – three full-time and one part-time – for the nearly 1,000 student population.
How grants could help Wichita school safety
Due to the increasing technology costs, Washer said a new grant from the Kansas State Department of Education for public and private schools could mitigate some of the revenue needed.
This year, Wichita Collegiate got a quote of $17,000 from a company to update its security camera system.
A security grant was offered by KDSE to schools in the fiscal year of 2019 to help improve the technology but has not been offered since. Wichita Public Schools received $921,000 from that grant.
“When you start to look at safety and how to secure campuses with technology like automatic doors and cameras,” Washer said, “well, none of it is cheap.”