Improving school safety is a consistent conversation for local administrators. Fittingly — after the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — Owensboro Public Schools presented their latest safety developments earlier this week, when they also discussed the need to provide School Resource Officer at every building campus in the district due to passage of House Bill 63.
John DeLacey, OPS Director of Transportation, Safety and Health, said that several schools in the district have placed a one-way cover on the entryway windows that allows the front desk workers to see out without being seen by those outside.
Of the six schools that have taken part in some fashion, each school was able to design its own window stickers. Other schools have placed the stickers in locations other than the front entrances, such as classrooms and other windows throughout the school.
“It’s used as a safety protocol on classroom doors, gym doors and cafeteria areas, but also front entrances so as people come in, they see a beautiful school. But people from the inside can see outside and see what’s approaching them without that person seeing them sitting there,” DeLacey said.
Because of the design, DeLacey said oftentimes students don’t notice that it’s a safety precaution and instead simply think it is an effort to work on the aesthetics of the schools.
DeLacey also noted that the locations of the schools are in Owensboro Police Department’s typical beat area so they are constantly on patrol nearby. He said partnership between OPD and OPS has been beneficial.
The district currently has two School Resource Officers — one at Owensboro High School and one at Owensboro Middle School. However, DeLacey said that due to House Bill 63, which was passed in early April, an SRO will eventually have to be assigned to each campus across the district.
“If you’re not familiar with the logistics of it, there’s a shortage of police officers right now in our community. So that’s one obstacle that we’re going to have to overcome. Having the training and the ability to do it, especially thinking about everyone in the state, that’s going to be a challenge but that’s something we’re continuing to work with OPD on,” DeLacey said.
The bill did not not include a way to fund the measure, leaving OPS and other school districts across the commonwealth to find their own way to add SROs to their team.
With funding for OPS is tightly allocated, Board Chair Melissa Decker was angry with the decision by legislators to not provide state funding.
She said that John David Sandefur, OPS Chief Financial Officer, has been going through the budget consistently and “scraping and adjusting” to be able to grant a raise to the teachers.
“There is not a lot of extra money floating around. So on top of that our legislators came up with this brilliant idea to have yet another unfunded mandate,” Decker said. “It would be fantastic to be able to have an SRO in each one of our buildings, but I think those legislators need to figure out where we’re going to pull money from.”
In other discussions about safety, DeLacey was told to look into adding/improving a speaker and camera system that would allow front desk workers to see and communicate with guests outside the building.
Safety measures already in place include a check-in system that scans IDs and alerts principals of any potentially questionable person, as well as doors to classrooms and different spaces throughout the building being locked out of precaution.
“We need to be more proactive and be more strict on the policy of keeping all the doors locked and closed because we realize that’s a great deterrent if there ever was a crisis,” DeLacey said.
DeLacey said should a crisis happen,, there is a text service that all staff are able to opt in to ease communication between staff and administrators. They have been utilizing the app Crisis Go for the last 5 years, with DeLacey saying it has been an effective tool in situations such as fire drills, lockdowns, tornado drills, etc.
There is also an additional service, Active 911, that he and several other administrators are a part of that gets notifications 24/7 of happenings in the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s unfortunate but in the times we are in now, we’ve had to use it for some active situations this year to alert all of our staff as quickly as possible,” DeLacey said.