Saranac Lake students, teachers, parents adjust to new school security

SARANAC LAKE – It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but Saranac Lake Central School District officials say teachers, students and parents are adjusting to new security measures implemented at the start of the school year last month.

“I feel it’s going as well as it could be,” high school Principal Josh Dann told the district’s Board of Education Wednesday night.

Since classes started in September, the doors of every building have been locked during the school day. Visitors or students who come in late have to push a call button outside each building’s main door and be buzzed in by school officials.

“I think we’re breaking some adult habits and some student habits as far as convenience goes,” Dann said. “When you explain it to the students why exactly we’re doing this, I think most of them understand why. Not that they like it, but I think they understand why.”

Bailey Hendricks, a high school senior who’s one of two student representatives on the school board, said there’s been a lot of controversy over the lockdown among her classmates. Some students circulated petitions against it, she said.

“Some people think it’s completely ridiculous,” she said. “Me personally, I think the locked doors are great. My niece is going to be going to kindergarten soon, so it’s really comforting. I do feel safer as a senior in high school that we made this decision.”

Locking school building doors is just one of several security measures the district implemented in the wake of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Others include new security cameras, swipe-card entry systems for employees and more staff training. Maps of each school building have been provided to village and state police, and Superintendent Diane Fox said village police have been given access to the district’s security camera system.

Dann said each of the high school’s 21 doors now has a number so police know which door to respond to if there’s an incident at the school. He said that was a recommendation from state police Sgt. Chad Niles, who’s been consulting with the district on ways it can shore up building security.

Dann said a lockdown drill was held at the school last week. One issue that came up was with email communication during a school incident. Dann said a new email system called High School 911 was created, with the password given to office staff and village and state police, “so they can see our communication during any lockdown procedure.

“A lot of the research shows the high school office or any office is the first to be targeted,” Dann said. “So if there’s a lack of communication for a period of time, police can log onto that email and communicate with our staff. It’s not just tied to one person in the office in case they’re absent, they’re out or they can’t log on.”

Dann said more security cameras are needed to cover the district.

“I think it’s really important that we take a look at how we’re installing and using our cameras in schools,” he said. “We have cameras in periodical spots of each building, but I think it’s important to have those throughout the whole district.”

Board member Terry Tubridy suggested school officials talk to police about where the optimum locations to put cameras should be, “instead of just buying more and putting them wherever.”

When board member Katie Fischer asked if high school teachers could use their personal cellphones to report an incident, Dann noted that cellphone service is spotty in the building. Tubridy recommended the district contact Verizon and ask if a cell service “booster” could be put inside the building for security purposes. School staff have hand-held radios they can use as well, Dann said.

Saranac Lake Middle School Principal Bruce Van Weelden suggested a security improvement that wasn’t necessarily technology-related – creating a foyer in the district’s two biggest buildings.

“Both the Petrova building and the high school building are ideally situated and suited for creating a second set of doorways across the main entrance that creates a foyer,” Van Weelden said. “That space would allow some sort of admittance without admittance into the building proper, versus you press a button, they come in, and they’re in.

“It’s something to consider. I don’t know the cost. It’s something I’ve looked at in both buildings, and it seems to make sense that you have a stop-gap second place where a person has to stop.”

Board members and school officials said they will continue to review their safety procedures and protocols as the school year continues.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or