Security vestibules installed at the main entrance to every school, a telephone in each classroom allowing teachers to put the school into lockdown when necessary, and special police officers assigned to every school building.
Ross Kasun, the superintendent of schools, outlined safety measures at the Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education meeting June 7.
“Our district takes the safety and security of our staff and our children very seriously. As a district, we have taken major strides to provide comprehensive security and safety measures (to protect students and staff),” Kasun said.
“Our current emergency plan, along with the technologies, the trainings and, probably most importantly, our people put our district among the best and most secure in the state,” he said.
Kasun said the district’s emergency management system enables school district officials to communicate any emergency situation simultaneously to the schools by making an announcement on the public address system and sending text messages to affected groups.
The Lawrence Township Police Department will be notified, and swipe card access to the doors in the school buildings will be disabled, Kasun said. A strobe light will be activated at each swipe card entrance to let people know there is something happening in the building, he said.
Pushing one of the emergency lockdown buttons, which are strategically placed throughout the school buildings, will initiate a lockdown situation, Kasun said.
The door access control system, which is part of the emergency management system, will alert administrators and office staff if a door has been propped open or if a door has been opened that should not have been opened, he said.
School Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge emphasized that the school district implemented many of the mentioned safety-related initiatives “far before the (mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24) incident,” some as early as 2018.
“The school board was very much in front of those things,” Eldridge said.
Although physical safety measures are important, school district officials said, addressing mental health issues is also a necessary component of the district’s overall safety plan.
The SAGE program employs full-time mental health clinicians to work with students and their families when students face a mental health crisis, The program is in addition to the school counselors, the student assistance counselor and child study team members, Kasun said.
The district monitors students’ Google accounts issued by the school district, he said. Security cameras have been placed strategically throughout the district, and more security cameras will be added.
Kasun also pointed to the school resource officer – a Lawrence Township police officer – who is assigned to Lawrence High School. The district has had a school resource officer – who befriends and works with the students – assigned to the high school for several years.
Police Officer Steve Austin, who is the current school resource officer, helped to disarm a 15-year-old student who brought a loaded gun to school in December 2021.
Beginning in 2018, the district hired Class III special law enforcement officers and assigned them to the other schools in the district. They are retired police officers who do not teach or discipline the students. They provide security and a visible presence in the schools, officials said.
Eldridge said the school resource officer and the Class III officers know the students and many of their parents. They know who belongs at the school and who does not belong, he said.
“They are very much accepted by the students and their parents,” he said. “They are the ‘face’ of some of our schools. When a parent pulls up at the school, they know the parent’s name.
“It was an exceptional move to hire the Class III officers.”