Local school districts consider security enhancement options

Jefferson County school districts are taking proactive measures to enhance campus security and student safety in the wake of the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Friday.

Pine Bluff interim Superintendent Linda Watson said Wednesday that some of the enhanced security measures that were announced at a Tuesday night school board meeting had been under discussion prior to Friday’s events in Connecticut and some of them were in response to the shootings.

“The enhancements at Pine Bluff High School and Jack Robey Junior High School had already been in discussion but the expansion of them to the elementary schools was the result of the Connecticut shootings,” Watson said.

The Pine Bluff School Board voted Tuesday to authorize Watson to come up with a cost estimate for placing cameras and communications equipment at the high school and Robey as well as the rest of the district’s campuses.

Board members Tuesday suggested fencing in school campuses and adding cameras to watch over classrooms and outside areas.

Watson Chapel Superintendent Danny Hazelwood said that he and his staff have conferred with district personnel about the issue in the past several days.

“Everyone is thinking about security,” Hazelwood said Wednesday. “We feel like we are doing as much as we can do. We used the federal stimulus money received by school districts several years ago to purchase video surveillance systems for all of our campuses. We are fortunate in that we were ahead of the curve on that.”

Hazelwood said that the surveillance systems allow for real-time detection of anyone suspicious attempting to enter district buildings.

“We are very glad to have Paul Jones as our district security director,” Hazelwood said. “He is one of our most looked to people on the issue of security.”

Hazelwood said that he met with all of the district’s principals Monday and they all discussed the topic of school security.

“We’ve got to reassure parents that we will do everything within our power to make sure our students are safe,” Hazelwood said. “It is a reassurance thing as much as anything else. The fact is we can’t run our schools as prisons. Nobody wants that.”

Hazelwood said that the district is reviewing things, including the checking of door locks, and ensuring that all campuses have a procedure in place for people who enter the campus.

Dollarway Superintendent Frank Anthony acknowledged that he is doing what he can to evaluate school security given his unique position.

“I’m in a bit of a different situation in that I don’t have a sitting board to confer with,” Anthony said in reference to his appointment to the superintendency by Arkansas Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell after the state takeover of the district in June.

“We have had some administrative talks this week on school security and of course there is ongoing consideration and thoughts about what can be done regarding any improvement in district security measures,” he said.

Anthony said that it is helpful to find out what other school districts around the state and the nation are doing in the wake of the Connecticut massacre.

“We have a crisis across this country so we just have to mind our p’s and q’s and hope that something like that doesn’t come to Pine Bluff,” Anthony said.

White Hall Superintendent Larry Smith said that the police presence at district schools has been enhanced to ease student and parent anxiety.

“This is not in response to any threat at White Hall or Redfield schools, but a joint police and school effort to confirm safety and security around the schools and to help ease the high levels of anxiety,” Smith said earlier this week. “I’ve asked all district principals to have counselors and faculty members on alert for signs of distress among our students.”

Larry Fugate contributed to this article.