School safety after Sandy Hook sparks local debate
By Lindsey Berning, NewsNetNebraska
In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Lincoln leaders are now debating bringing back police into schools.
The Lincoln City Council and Lincoln Public Schools School Board met last Tuesday, Feb. 5 for this reason. School safety has been a big concern across the country after the Dec. 14 massacre which was the second deadliest school shooting in United States history.
After the shooting in Connecticut, Lincoln City Councilman Gene Carroll brought up the idea to bring back Security Resource Officers, or SROs, to middle schools. That suggestion brought city and school district officials together to talk.
“The school security is always an ongoing issue,” LPS Director of Security William Kuehn said. “This was the first step to open up that dialog and get these two entities to work together.”
Currently, there are six SROs in Lincoln, one in each of the six public high schools. According to Lincoln Police Department Public Information Officer Katie Flood, the city eliminated five SROs in the elementary schools in 2004. Then in 2010, four SROs were taken out of the middle schools.
Kuehn said they were withdrawn from schools partially because the federal grants used to pay for them had expired, and they were looking for budget cuts. Each SRO costs about $80,000 a year.
“I think the parents would feel better knowing that there is an officer there,” LPS teacher Shelly Longoria said. “And I think as teachers it would allow us to relax and be able to teach and not have to worry about safety issues.”
Longoria teaches at Kloefkorn Elementary School, which opened this school year. She is also mother to a student at Kloefkorn and a student at Lux Middle School.
According to Lincoln police data, nearly 2,500 incidents occurred at schools that required an officer in 2012.
Some examples of these incidents are: assault, drug possession, theft, vandalism, knives brought to school, suspected child abuse at home or uncontrollable students, Kuehn said.
Schools do have security now, Kuehn said. Security Entrance Monitors are at the front of every school to check in all visitors and give them a visitor’s badge, he said. The computer system can pull up whether or not they are a sex offender.
Each school also has a radio in the office and several wireless radios.
“I’d like to see more of the sensible entries where they’d have to go through a vestibule to get through the school,” Kuehn said. “We’ve done that in our new schools and remodeled some of our older schools. Eventually I’d like to see those in all schools so they have a defensible entry.”
Longoria said the schools also have code red drills in place. If a code red is called over the PA system, teachers know to lock their doors and continue teaching or move children away from doors and windows, depending on the type of drill.
“I think our community as a whole would say that they want to keep students safe and that they think it’s a good idea to have resource officers in the schools,” Longoria said. “But those jobs are paid by tax dollars, and a majority of this community doesn’t like to pay higher taxes.
“I think that’s something that needs to be discussed because we can’t afford those positions if we don’t increase taxes. So I think that’s a discussion the community needs to have.”