Student safety net

Medford district puts up fencing, restricts access into buildings and plans other improvements to protect kids
A chain-link fence surrounds Hoover Elementary School and its back play area as part of new security measures implemented by the Medford School District. Older schools that hadn't already been remodeled face the most extensive changes.Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Michelle Hensman knows that campus security is no laughing matter. But when she was dropping off her two sons for their first day back at Ruch School, they couldn't help but giggle at the sight of little children corralled inside a fence.

"It just struck us as funny," recalls Hensman, who was accustomed to an open campus. "One of my boys said, 'Don't feed the animals at the zoo.' And we all laughed."

A look at the changes

Medford School District security changes include:

  • Maintain a 6-foot fence completely around school fields. Parking lot access will remain open.
  • All perimeter fencing gates are to remain locked during school hours.
  • All perimeter landscaping should not exceed 18 inches tall; trees should be trimmed to 8 feet.
  • Each site should have a primary entry point that can be supervised by the school's office. All other access points should be locked during school hours.
  • School's office staff should have clear visibility to the front parking lot.
  • Classrooms should not enter into public access areas.
  • All classrooms should have door hardware that can be locked from inside the classroom.
  • All classroom and gathering area windows should have coverings or means to obscure a visual view from the exterior.
  • An effective announcing and reporting system and procedures to notify staff and response agencies should be in place.
  • Cameras at all major building access points and parking lots should be in place.
  • There will be adequate security lighting for the interior and exterior of the school campus.
  • All visitors must check in and wear district-issued identification.
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She then became quiet when she said that perimeter fencing, locking gates and restricting access through the reconfigured front office door are necessary safety precautions.

"We all want our children safe," she says.

Students enrolled in Medford schools and their parents noticed security-related changes made over the summer when they returned to campuses on Tuesday.

The $2.1 million upgrades, completed in three phases, are meant to control people coming into the schools, and allow faculty and staff to protect children on campus.

In case of an emergency, there are notification buttons, door hardware that locks from the inside, and window coverings that obscure views inside the buildings.

Superintendent Phil Long says that after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December, he and the School Board began evaluating the safety of the district's campuses.

"The day of the tragedy, we reflected on what happened and then we started to come up with a response to make our schools safe without over-responding," he says.

With the help of law enforcement and other security experts, they decided to make improvements at each campus. A new campus and many schools remodeled over the past six years required the least amount of work.

South Medford High, which was constructed in 2010, needs $22,000 for a large monitor at the entry, an emergency notification system and phones.

Over the summer, however, crews worked to transform older schools such as Hoover Elementary, which was built in 1958.

Now, children can be dropped off in a school parking lot and enter a side door that takes them past the glass-enclosed office. This outside door and gates are then locked at 8 a.m., leaving the front door to the office the only way to enter the campus during school hours.

A total of $315,000 was budgeted to also install 6-foot fencing, move classroom doors to the campus interior and improve the security system.

At Griffin Creek Elementary, which was built in 1902 and rebuilt in 1968-69 after a fire, $286,500 was spent to create secure passages from classrooms, upgrade the security alarm system and add exterior and interior cameras.

At Ruch School, Hensman says filing everyone past the remodeled front office didn't make Tuesday any more chaotic than previous first days of school. As in the past, parents were registering their children and kids needed help finding their teachers.

About $200,000 was allocated to also change classroom doors to open only into fenced areas and install security alarms, cameras and a notification phone system.

"It's a better setup than they had before," says Hensman, who has a first-grader and eighth-grader at the school. "They did the best things to make parents and kids feel safe."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.



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