Columbia Public Schools make some, but not all, safety upgrades

COLUMBIA, Mo. - With students headed back to school, security is on a lot of minds. It was only nine months ago that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary claimed 26 lives, including 20 children.

The tragedy rocked the nation and put school security plans across the country under review.

Last year, ABC 17's Kristie Reeter took viewers inside Columbia schools to show where security lagged and the plans the district had to improve safety.

In a special report, she followed up with school officials on what changes they were able to accomplish for the new school year.

Back in January, CPS superintendent Chris Belcher said several areas needed improvement in Columbia schools. He wanted to add new buzz-in systems, eliminate trailer classrooms and add more cameras and school resource officers.

Since then, officials were able to complete some improvements, but others may take awhile.

"Over the last school year and into the summer, we were able to get the buzz-in system installed in just about all of our schools," said CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark.

It's a security improvement parents and students will notice as soon as they walk up to the door.

"When you arrive at the building, we just ask parents that they go ahead and press the dial button, which will ring the front office," said Baumstark.

School staff will then be able to decide whether or not to let that person inside.

That is the only way outsiders can enter middle and elementary schools since the doors are locked during school hours.

As Baumstark said, not all school have the system installed yet. She says they are still deciding what to do about Hickman High School, Rock Bridge High School and at the career center.

"Those schools are going to be a bit more challenging as far as being able to secure the doors because of traffic flow in those buildings," she said.

Dr. Belcher told ABC 17 News last year that trailer classrooms are a concern of his. He said it's a safety and security concern being able to get kids to and from the trailers throughout the day.

Some schools, like Hickman, were are able to get rid of the trailers, while other schools had to add them.

"We are still seeing significant growth on the south side and north side," Baumstark said. "We had to add a trailer to Two Mile Prairie School, which is one of our rural buildings," she said. "We also had to add two trailers at Mill Creek."

That means more than 100 trailers remains throughout the school district.

When it comes to school resource officers, Belcher had said the district was attempting to get them back into schools. However, that is not happening this school year.

In fact, the four remaining officers will only be in the high schools and at the core center.

"We did set aside funds for SROs to be hired in the school district when we passed the tax levy back in April," Baumstark told ABC 17 News. "However, we are kind of at an impasse now because there are not enough trained officers for those officers to be assigned to be SROs within our school buildings."

The district took those additional funds and hired a second safety and security coordinator for the district.

Along with the police substation at Jefferson, law enforcement will continue a new effort to make daily stops at the schools not covered by SROs.

In addition, there will also be more eyes on Columbia schools with the help of new cameras. About 150 cameras are new this year, bringing the total to around 700 in the district.

"It really just gives you a picture of where people are in the building," said Baumstark. "Certainly if there were a crisis or emergency situation, we'd be able to have access to see what's going on."

For those crisis situations, schools also have new emergency radios.

"They were newly programmed to have direct frequency to talk directly to our safety and security coordinator and our deputy superintendent," Baumstark said. "It's a better option than cell phones and communication devices that may or may not work in a crisis situation."

Security training will also continue in the city's schools. Over the summer, NASCAR driver and Columbia native Carl Edwards paid for a training session for all employees in the district.

Along with training, a review of security plans will continue to ensure schools are as safe as possible.

All of the security upgrades did not come without a cost. The cameras, buzz-in systems and new radios cost the district around $140,000.

However, school officials have said they will spend whatever money they can to make security upgrades where needed.

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