How far are we willing to go for safety?

Brian Crane, technology director for the Ignacio School District, discusses the different live images gathered by cameras on the exterior and interior of Ignacio High School. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Brian Crane, technology director for the Ignacio School District, discusses the different live images gathered by cameras on the exterior and interior of Ignacio High School.

More could be done to fortify local schools, but how far that goes depends on the schools and the communities they serve.

Some schools function as community hubs, where people can come and go for meetings and extracurricular activities. Others are more remote and are used almost exclusively for learning.

The arsenal of possible security measures is wide-ranging. Options include arming teachers, hiring security guards, locking most doors, using metal detectors, installing surveillance cameras and having drug- and weapons-sniffing dogs.

All three school districts in La Plata County – Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio – have started locking exterior doors, usually with the exception of the front door. They also require all visitors to sign in at the main office.

But finding the front office can be difficult in some schools. Visitors can roam the halls before finding the office or deciding to check in.

Many schools were built as welcoming centers, with open floor plans and administrative offices pushed off to the side.

“Some of our buildings were certainly not designed with school safety in mind,” said Daniel Snowberger, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R. “They were designed more as a community welcome hub.”

What may work for one school may not work for another, said Kathy Morris, with the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which is conducting a vulnerability assessment for nine school districts in Southwest Colorado.

Sunnyside Elementary installed a video-door intercom system late last year in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Conn., said Amber Belvin, president of the Independent Parent Teacher Association.

“The school district was great at putting it in, in a timely fashion,” she said.

Anyone who wants to enter the school must go to the front door to be buzzed in. A receptionist can see the person outside and talk to him or her on an intercom.

The buzzer system made sense for Sunnyside because it is a small school in a rural area along a busy highway that leads to New Mexico, Snowberger said.

(Sandy Hook Elementary also had a video-buzzer system, but the shooter blasted his way through the glass doors.)

“My encouragement to principals is, engage the community – talk about it with the community,” Snowberger said. “It needs to be a community decision, not just, ‘9-R has decided to put a buzzer on the door.’”

Sunnyside also serves as a branch of Durango Public Library, which means the public can come and go to use the library, Principal Vanessa Fisher said.

It takes a little longer for people to enter the school, but for the most part, they have been accepting, she said.

“We have figured out that it has really been a welcoming feature in our school,” Fisher said. “We’re welcoming them before they’re even up to our building.”

A door buzzer seems to have less appeal at Riverview Elementary, which is a larger school in the heart of Durango. Parents are accustomed to dropping off their children and walking them to their first class, said one parent, who attended a meeting last month to discuss school safety.

There is too much foot traffic in and out of the building, and it would be a full-time job to buzz people in, parents said.

The same could be said for Durango High School, where people come and go to attend meetings, pick up a child, speak to a class and to participate in extracurricular activities such as theater or sports.

Principal Leanne Garcia, who moved to Durango six years ago from Las Cruces, N.M., said she was blown away by how easy it is for people to come and go.

“School safety measures were taken much more seriously (there) than I have experienced in Durango,” she said. “What I have found most recently is it is very community specific as to how seriously school safety is taken.”

shane@durangoherald.com