Private schools, UM reexamining security policies after Connecticut school shooting

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

Local private schools, as well as the University of Montevallo, are reexamining their security policies in the wake of a Newtown, Conn. shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 27 dead, including 20 children under the age of 7.

Michele Wilensky, executive director at Hilltop Montessori School in Mt Laurel, said the school has an active crisis management plan, but school officials plan to take another look to ensure those policies are as up to date as possible.

“Schools would be remiss not to reexamine all of their policies in light of the horrible situation in Connecticut,” Wilensky said.

Wilensky said currently students and faculty practice intruder, fire and tornado drills. The school has a buzzed access system that locks the school from the outside while allowing occupants to get out in an emergency situation, as well as an emergency intercom system. Visitors are required to sign in at the front door, which is the only access to the building, among other security measures.

Wilensky said Hilltop administrators are focusing on the fundamentals and are in the process of forming a crisis management team.

“Experts note that Sandy Hook Elementary did pretty much everything right and that even schools with enhanced security measures are still vulnerable to these committed assailants,” she said. “Experts in school security measures are also advocating focusing on the fundamentals. I think the best protection is having solid practices and policies in place that protect the students.”

Alabaster’s Kingwood Christian School also is working to upgrade safety at the school in the wake of the shooting. Shortly after the Connecticut shooting was reported, school officials met to review the school’s safety guidelines.

“We’ve put in a few changes already, and we will review our safety plan and present upgrades to parents on January 8,” said KCS Principal Ruth Gray.

Since the day of the shooting, the Alabaster Police Department also increased its presence at Kingwood and other Alabaster schools.

“They’ve been in the building hourly since Friday,” Gray said on Dec. 19.

At Indian Springs School, Director Gareth Vaughan said school officials began reviewing safety procedures and security systems on campus “in the days before the shooting.”

“This work will go ahead with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose, given the recent tragedy in Newtown,” he said. “We have already been in touch with our school community about these efforts and will continue to update them.”

Vaughan declined to discuss details of the school’s current emergency policies “in an effort to not undermine our security efforts.”

University of Montevallo Police Chief Chadd Adams said the department is “constantly” considering dangerous scenarios and the department’s ability to react.

“It’s something we constantly have on our mind. We’re designated to a school, unlike the sheriff’s department or city police,” he said. “Our city is the university. Our time is spent constantly looking to thwart any type of instance that may occur.”

The university recently unveiled its implementation of Virtual Alabama, a technology using Google Earth available to first responders to provide real-time information about the campus.

“That’s another tool we’re able to utilize that gives us more information and gives us a better picture. We have a large number of buildings we have to protect on campus that are public buildings. Access to them is a lot greater than the elementary and middle schools,” Adams said. “We live in a dangerous world; there’s no other way to put it.”

Christine Boatwright and Neal Wagner contributed to this report.