Students attending Coeur d’Alene public schools will return from holiday break Monday to buildings and buses that have new security features in place.
One of the enhancements will make it more difficult to gain entry into Coeur d’Alene public schools when classes are in session.
All buildings are now outfitted with new equipment — a buzzer, intercom and security camera — that will be used to control access to the schools at the main entrances.
“It’s a big culture change, and it’s one that we’re hoping the public understands and embraces in terms of keeping our kids, and our staff, safe,” said Superintendent Matt Handelman.
The buzz-in system will be phased into use district-wide. School officials hope to have the system in use at all schools by the end of February.
A three-week pilot of the controlled access equipment will begin Wednesday at Ramsey Magnet School, Woodland Middle School and Coeur d’Alene High School.
At the start of each school day, all doors to the schools will be locked to outside entry, with access to the building available only through the main entrance. All doors will continue to open freely from the inside out.
Before entering the school, parents and visitors will be required to push an intercom button, identify themselves and state the purpose of their visit.
“For people who visit our schools regularly, who volunteer, or parents who come to pick up their kids, it might take a little extra time,” Handelman said. “It’s also going to be a big change for people inside the schools.”
School office staff members will be trained to make visual and verbal determinations before granting anyone entry into their buildings. Visitors who are not recognized will be asked to show photo identification.
Another major change is the installation of an enhanced video surveillance and communication system on each of the district’s 66 school buses.
There will now be three video cameras rolling on all school buses whenever students are being transported. Previously, the district had a limited amount of school bus surveillance equipment, leaving some buses without video monitoring.
The hope is that the video surveillance will cut down on bullying and other types of behaviors that are distracting to bus drivers.
The cameras on buses are also a big change for students, Handelman said.
Before coming to Coeur d’Alene, Handelman was a principal in Spokane.
“The first time I pulled a small group of kids in to show them video of themselves on the bus, they were wide-eyed. They didn’t realize they were being caught on video,” he said.
In addition to the entry access system and the video cameras on the buses, students at Lake City and Coeur d’Alene high schools will return to find some structural changes to their schools’ front offices.
The renovations will provide a direct line-of-sight from the school offices to the front doors of the buildings, something that was previously lacking. It adds another layer of security surveillance.
Most of the new equipment, hardware and infrastructure is being paid for with $1.4 million from a property tax levy approved by voters last March. School officials sought the funds for the security enhancements following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.