Asheville, NC -- Officials are planning ways to further restrict entry to city and county elementary schools, and the extra security measures could be in place as soon as next month.
The Buncombe County Board of Education decided Thursday night to add video-entry systems to all elementary and intermediate schools, a move the city also approved for its elementary schools in the wake of last month's Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
The board unanimously passed the motion to fund the $100,000 project, which will allow office personnel in the schools to see anyone attempting to enter before buzzing them in. Only one door in each school is unlocked throughout the school day, and that door will host the surveillance equipment, administrators said.
County Safe Schools Director Robbie Adell recommended the board purchase 24 of the video units for the security measures using funds from the system's capital outlay funds.
"We want to make the school an inviting and pleasant place for kids and families," Buncombe County schools technology director Monty Fuchs said. "Schools are supposed to be a nice place, and we don't want to make them a prison, but we have to protect them any way we can."
Fuchs said depending on when the board approves bids for the equipment and installation, systems could be installed as early as next month.
City schools superintendent Allen Johnson already approved the cost for such a system to be added to all elementary schools in the city school system, and those should be installed in coming weeks, according to city schools spokesman Charlie Glazner.
"We consider this a high priority so we're looking at weeks, not months, to get these in place," Glazner said.
Oakley Elementary is one of a handful of schools that already has a video-entry system similar to the units schools will add in coming weeks. The system, which has been in place for several years, will be upgraded, along with other school units, Fuchs said.
"We really like it, and there has never really been any problem with it or complaints from parents or anything," said Donna Brown, who has been a receptionist at the elementary school for more than 20 years. "It definitely makes you feel safer, because that's the only avenue people can enter and we can control who comes in."
The county board briefly discussed some inherent design and logistical safety concerns with schools, including the fact that doors are often open during class changes when many students walk outside from building to building.
"This is really just a first step as far as I'm concerned," board chairman Bob Rhinehart said. "It's a good first step and a way to start the process, but I think we need to look at it on an ongoing basis."
Board member Lisa Baldwin said the motion was, "not enough of a first step," and suggested the system look into hiring armed guards to patrol all schools or to have armed security personnel incorporated into receptionist jobs.
Rhinehart also pointed out that a group of school administrators, county leaders and Buncombe County Sheriff's Office staff are looking into additional safety measures as part of an ongoing collaboration following the Sandy Hook shootings.
Superintendent Tony Baldwin supported the recommendation to the board but added, "technology supports but should never replace the personnel and staff we need to keep our children safe. The school in Newtown had similar devices already in place, so to depend on technology alone would be a wrong move, and I think we have to keep that in mind as we move forward."