Parent tells Seaford board security is lax at schools
By Ronald MacArthur
“Just lock the doors. Just lock the doors.”
Parent John Hanenfeld repeated that comment several times as members of the Seaford Board of Education listened intently during their Nov. 15 meeting.
The issue was school security and Hanenfeld, who has a son at Fred Douglass School, said he is shocked at the lack of security at the school. He hinted that the practices at the school were typical at all schools in the district.
“I’m disturbed and perplexed about the lack of security at Fred Douglass. Lack of security is a broad scope. A secured building has a lock that is in place that won’t allow someone to walk into the school. That’s not the case at Fred Douglass.
“My concern is that we are in an evil society today,” Hanenfeld said.
“Why won’t they lock the front door? I approached the school principal twice and asked her why don’t you lock the front door and the response was it was too much trouble. That wasn’t the response I was looking for,” he said.
He talked about one of the top priorities of the Seaford board (as listed on the district’s website) “The school and school district personnel must give primary consideration to the health, safety, and welfare of the children. Open, swinging doors does not accomplish that,” he said.
He also said that he has observed other doors at the school left open, or propped open, on warm days, when custodians go outside to cut grass, or when teachers go outside for recess. He said that several doors are used when buses arrive with students. He said that other districts try to use one door for bus students.
Hanenfeld said that he had contacted neighboring districts in Laurel and Woodbridge and told the board that they placed a high priority on security in school buildings. He said that four out of the five schools in Laurel have security systems in place.
“Laurel and Woodbridge have security systems, including video monitors, in their schools,” he said. “Laurel has it, they found the money. Woodbridge has it, they found the money. We are supposed to be leaders, not followers. It seems like we are following on the security issue,” Hanenfeld said.
Hanenfeld suggested that the doors be locked at all times and that staff members be given a swipe card for entry and that the front door entry system be converted to a buzz-in system. He said that from his research that type of system could be put in place at Fred Douglass for around $4,000 - $5,000, and that he was willing to donate $1,000 to get the project started.
“We have looked into security at various times and your price is nowhere near the prices that we were getting,” said Dr. William Parmelee, the board president.
“If I may interject, locking the door with a lock already in place is not an economic issue. Instructing teachers when they leave out the back door to save extra steps not to put a rolled carpet in the door to prop it open during recess. Simple things like that are not economic issues,” Hanenfeld said. “You have locks in place - lock the door.”
“We have an issue with that. For example at the high school the students love to go out the side doors and they make it so the doors don’t close. We are working to address that the locks are being defeated,” Parmelee said.
Currently, visitors to Seaford schools are required to report to school offices and sign in, but the system is not always enforced. The high school has student office aides stationed at the front door to sign-in and sign-out students and visitors. There is no policy requiring doors to be locked.
“It’s a complex issue. Cape Henlopen which has many dollars to spend on something did spend something on security systems but still has the front doors at all their schools open. I’m not saying that’s the direction to go. I’m saying that a buzz-in system could create a false sense of security,” said Dr. Russell Knorr, the district superintendent.
“Of a greater safety matter is to keep classroom doors locked which are in the purview of teachers and principals. There are a lot of issues that we will talk about collectively.
”We want to make sure that the steps we take will make the situation safer and not give us a false sense of security. We could have some money to spend, but we need to spend it wisely,” he added.
He questioned whether the issue of school security should be placed “on the shoulders of secretaries or paraprofessionals.”
Knorr pointed out that schools are inundated with visitors, parents and other students and adults who are volunteers and HOSTS mentors on a daily basis.
Contacted following the meeting Knorr agreed that security may not be at the point where it needs to be in the Seaford School District.
“We want to create as safe an environment as possible, but right now it’s not as safe as it should be, because people do tend to get lax,” he said.
Knorr said he has seen doors propped open at schools in warm weather and he said that he found some unlocked doors at the middle school this week that shouldn’t have been unlocked.
Knorr said that the issue is more complex than simply locking all doors. “I plan to take a number of steps. I’m going to talk to people in Laurel, Woodbridge and Milford and see how their card swipe systems work,” he said. “And check into how the buzz-in systems work. We need more information.”
In addition Knorr said that Roy Whitaker, the district’s chief of building and grounds, is getting more information and costs of security systems.
“I will share all of this information with the board as soon as possible,” the superintendent said.
“I guarantee you that if I went out and pulled on every car in the parking lot most of the doors are locked, your house is probably locked with a security system on. Why can’t it be here at the Seaford School system?” Hanenfeld asked.
Parmelee promised Hanenfeld that the board would take action. “We will discuss it and figure out what we can do,” he said.
“We need to address this issue on a proactive matter and not just at Fred Douglass,” board member David Speicher added.
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