Frank talk about school safety in Farmington

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2013 - 6:07 PM

Parents in Farmington are seeking solutions to the problem of school security.

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A renovation of Akin Road Elementary School could bring the removal of lockers from the lobby, which block the direct sightline from the school’s office.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Bulletproof glass. Armed guards. Pistol-packing teachers. Door and hall monitors.

All are things that parents want the Farmington School District to consider as upgrades to security at the city's schools, particularly at elementary facilities.

The recommendations were made during a community meeting on school safety, and school officials promised changes -- some immediate, such as locking doors that should be locked and better monitoring of who enters elementary schools in the district, which emerged as probably the top concern among parents.

"If people want to come into your school, you want to make it hard," said Len Barber, who kept his kids home the week after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., and again on Monday, the one-month anniversary of the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 kids and six adults dead at the school.

About 90 people attended the community meeting, the first time a school district in the state has taken to such a public forum to discuss the Sandy Hook shootings and school security in general.

People told stories of being able to walk into elementary schools unchallenged -- of seeing doors open or no one in the school office monitoring the front door.

Attending the meeting were Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen as well principals and police officers from Farmington and Lakeville.

Haugen promised he and other administrators would convey to teachers and staff that visitors need to be challenged more, that doors need to remain locked, and that extra vigilance is required.

"You'll see some changes," Haugen told the crowd. "We can be more vigilant, and that is everybody's job."

Physical changes possible

Longer term, the district will be looking at improving the physical layouts of elementary schools. Earlier this month the Farmington school board authorized proceeding with a $1.65 million renovation to Akin Road Elementary. Among the proposed changes: removing lockers now hindering sightlines from the office to the entrance, which should make the school safer.

"For students to succeed in school, they need to feel safe and to be safe," Haugen said.

Several parents asked about adding school resource officers, armed guards or even having teachers carry weapons.

None of the panel members recommended arming teachers or having armed guards, but there was talk about adding school resource police officers if money can be found. That, however, will be difficult to accomplish.

Last month, just days after the shooting in Newton, it was estimated that it would cost $138 million to have a school resource officer at each of the 1,968 public schools in Minnesota, based on an average cost of $70,500 per officer.

The district has two school resource officers who monitor a high school, two middle schools and four of five elementary schools. The fifth school is in Lakeville and handled by police there.

Farmington Police Chief Brian Lindquist told the audience that budget issues in the city and the schools forced the reduction of school resource officers from three to two.

He and other police officers at the meeting assured parents that police are trained and ready to handle situations of violence.

"People are prepared to protect your kids," said Lakeville school resource officer Kevin O'Neill.

Police said parents and visitors to schools can help police and schools by being vigilant as to who has or has not signed in or who is not wearing identity or visitor cards in the schools.

"You all know who hasn't signed in" at schools, Lindquist said. "The fact you are watching, you are [our] best ally."

Police and educators did not endorse the idea of arming teachers or bringing in armed guards to the schools. Educators and police said teachers do not have the law enforcement training to deal with a situation, and that merely having a gun would not guarantee a child's safety.

"I'm a hunter and know my way around a gun," said Ben Januschka, the principal at Farmington Elementary, who had to lockdown the school about eight years ago during a kidnapping and bank robbery.

"I don't have the training ... and I'm not sure the cure for cancer is more cancer."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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