The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board is considering installing electronic fencing and metal detectors at the parish’s two high schools after a knife was found on the newly renovated East St. John High School campus this summer and outsiders were found wandering the open campus.
If the initiative is funded, St. John would be the third River Parishes school district — after St. James and St. Charles — to beef up security since 2012.
District spokeswoman Jennifer Boquet said there was already an urgent need to improve safety measures, but after Thursday’s mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, concern has peaked yet again. Ten people were killed and seven injured at the Oregon campus.
“Anything we can do to increase security is important,” Boquet said.
The proposal in St. John includes installing up to 10 metal detectors at East and West St. John high schools, as well as perimeter fencing, said School Board member Albert “Ali” Burl.
If the board decides it has the cash available, the schools could get the upgrades as early as this school year.
Officials at the schools have used portable metal detectors, according to members of the School Board, but the new initiative would bring permanent detectors.
St. John Parish schools already got a safety boost this summer when the Sheriff’s Office provided each elementary and high school with radios that allow direct contact with the parish’s 911 communications center. The program is the first of its kind in Louisiana, Sheriff Mike Tregre said.
Schools in southeast Louisiana, like other districts nationwide, are increasing security in response to mass shootings, including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were shot to death there.
One report shows there have been 142 school shootings around the country since Sandy Hook. The number includes elementary schools, high schools and colleges, and averages to about one school shooting a week.
It is incidents like those and the massacre at Columbine High School, a 1999 mass shooting that left 15 dead and more than 20 injured in Colorado, that prompted St. Charles Parish schools to spend $850,000 on security measures, said Stevie Crovetto, a spokeswoman for the parish’s School Board.
The upgrade, which began in June and is slated for completion in 2017, includes new perimeter fencing, security cameras and an electronic visitor management system. Funded as part of a $42 million bond issue approved by voters in May, it joins safety measures already put in place, like random searches conducted with metal wands every morning at middle and high schools.
“Since the tragic Columbine incident in 1999, a robust safety and security plan was implemented, and it continues to evolve in an effort to strive for continuous improvement,” Crovetto said.
St. James Parish also recently finished a nearly $2 million security upgrade at its schools. Schools now have security cameras, alarm monitoring, a key card system for teachers and a digital visitor badge system, thanks to money from a $13.5 million bond issue in 2012.
Although local educators laud these measures as a way to prevent tragedies, at least one school safety expert cautions against placing too much emphasis on technology.
“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting company. “What’s happened since Sandy Hook is that schools are focused very narrowly on physical security measures. They’re invested on the hardware and technology side but haven’t been invested in the people side.”
The St. John Parish School Board hasn’t scheduled a date to vote on funding the permanent metal detectors or perimeter fencing or even decided how much it would cost, board members said.
Burl said the board’s Finance Committee is waiting to hear presentations from principals of the high schools in order to determine if the initiative is necessary.
But Russ Wise, a member of the board for more than 10 years, said he would vote against having permanent metal detectors in the schools, calling them an “overreaction.”
“There’s an assumption there that you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Wise said. “That isn’t part of the America that I want children to grow up in.”