One of the toughest challenges for school officials and students is how to make the schools safer without compromising convenience and the educational environment. Chris Knight reports.
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Julia Murray is a Saranac Lake High School senior and one of two student representatives on the district’s board of education.
She wants school officials to shore up what she’s described as lax security at the high school.
“You can get in the high school in six different doors anytime of the day, and it’s very unsettling seeing a bunch of random strangers just walk in without any problems. I think there are a lot of easy, non-costful ways to make the school more secure.”
School security is an issue that hits home for Murray. She grew up in Newtown, Conn. and lived there until she was 10 years old.
She didn't attend Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14., but the shooting led Murray to voice her concerns about school safety in Saranac Lake at a board meeting last week.
“It made me realize that this is the time to speak out, because if this could happen in the town we’re from – it’s just a very scary thought and that’s what made me want to bring it up to the board.”
At last week’s board meeting, school officials said they’d been meeting internally and with law enforcement personnel to discuss ways to improve security at their buildings, including the high school.
Board member Miles Van Nortwick is on the district’s Safety Committee.
“We’ve always had safety in mind, but after this incident, everybody in this country is more aware of this. “
School leaders have been reluctant to name every security precaution they are taking, but Van Nortwick said locking doors, adding security cameras and providing more training for school staff are some of the things being implemented. In some cases, convenience of access to school buildings may be sacrificed for the sake of improving security.
“There will be more doors locked and stuff like that. Change is tough and I’m sure there will be some grumblings, and I may even be one of the ones that grumbles, but it’s a necessary thing to do.”
Julia Murray said she supports some of the increased security precautions the district is pursuing, but not every student agrees.
Murray's fellow student representative on the school board, junior Nicholas Mann, said he is concerned about the district going overboard on security. Mann believes the high school is safe and he feels money for beefing up security could be better spent.
“We could install 20 new security cameras, hire someone to monitor them all the time – I have to think, how could that money be better spent? That could be put toward a better educational experience at Saranac Lake High School.”
Mann said students can do more to head off a security issue than a surveillance camera, and he suggested bringing in law enforcement personnel to teach programs on what to do if they see something suspicious.
“That would be a level of security we can provide for ourselves, which further trains us to act independently and act like we’re going to have to when we’re adults. We have to be aware of our surroundings and know how to deal with these issues ourselves a little bit, I think.”
Van Nortwick said school officials are looking at everything when it comes to improving security.
“We’re doing everything humanly possible with the resources that we have to make sure we have the safest schools possible.”