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To keep students safe, Johnson County schools get new emergency buttons and door locks

Some Johnson County school districts are putting additional security measures in place when schools return this month.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Some Johnson County school districts are putting additional security measures in place before classes resume this week.

As students prepare to head back to class, some schools are looking at new ways to keep them safe.

The Shawnee Mission School District is adding an extra layer of security to its buildings this school year after recent mass shootings that heightened anxieties over school safety.

At its meeting Monday, the Shawnee Mission Board of Education unanimously approved spending up to $250,000 to install hard wired, button-controlled door locks at the main entrances of the district’s elementary and middle schools.

According to district documents, the change is part of an effort to “better and more uniformly secure district attendance facilities.” It also said the buttons will replace wireless ones which risk being misplaced, need batteries changed frequently, respond slowly or suffer from signal interference.

The buttons will be located in two locations at each building’s office, which the district said “reinforces the importance of having ‘eyes on’ visitors requesting access to the building.” The buttons control all of a building’s main entry doors.

“We only could control two doors previous to that, so now we will have complete control over all three doors to check anybody that's coming into our building,” Deputy Superintendent Joe Gilhaus said.

All elementary and middle schools will receive the security upgrade except for Hocker Grove Middle School, which has no holding area yet. Hocker, however, will update its facilities in September as part of a bond issue to add such an area.  

The district also plans to put a poster in every classroom covering the basics of what to do in a crisis such as a lockdown, code red situation or evacuation. The district will have a drill for each plan, which will be announced to parents this year.

“Most of the kids, especially the younger ones, if you do a code red, they go home and tell their families anyway, which is great. But the bottom line is there's nothing to hide and it’s full transparency,” Gilhaus said.

Board documents said the district anticipates finishing installing the new system by Aug. 29.

Shawnee Mission, where classes begin on Thursday and Friday, isn’t the only district making security changes. The Olathe School District announced that it will install a new system to allow staff to call for help in emergencies with just the push of a button.

The system, called CrisisAlert, allows staff to request assistance for medical emergencies or school disturbances by pressing a button on a wearable badge. District leaders said the added security measure was in the works before a shooting at Olathe East High School in March.

Dr. Jim McMullen, assistant superintendent for Olathe Public Schools, said the badge will also allow any staff member to put a building on lockdown during a crisis, such as one involving an active shooter.

“Many times, time can be of the essence and waiting for the principal or administrator to make that decision can be certainly concerning,” McMullen said at a June board meeting. “So giving that power to the staff — we think’s really important.”

District administrators said they’re aiming for all staff members to receive their badges by the end of September. School safety specialists will also be placed at each high school this year.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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