BACK 2 SCHOOL: Safety and security concerns

Entrance of Appleton East High School
Entrance of Appleton East High School(WBAY Staff)
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 5:37 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - This week more students are rushing back to class for their first day of school. While there’s a lot to think about, school safety and security are on the top of the list.

It’s a sad reality that active-shooter situations are no longer a “what if?” scenario. Instead, it’s “where, when and how.”

But school districts in our area, like Appleton, are taking several steps to prevent a tragedy.

For Appleton Area School District Superintendent Greg Hartjes, two things have been part of his career since the Columbine High School mass shooting.

“I tell people all the time since that day, every day you’re vigilant about school safety. It’s not just when a tragedy occurs. It’s not just at the start of school occurs,” Hartjes says.

“Originally it was just the high schools that we were worried about school safety, but now it’s everywhere,” he adds.

Even elementary schools, like Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, rocking a community just when students were getting ready for summer break.

Hartjes says a million-dollar grant from the Department of Justice a few years ago helped the district “harden” 27 of its buildings, making it harder to get inside schools and, once inside, forcing intruders to get past the office.

”We improved the locks on many of our doors across the district --external locks and internal locks. We added the shatter-resistant film to all of our glass. We increased the number of cameras throughout our buildings and campuses. And we added several communication systems, PA systems.”

More plans are set for the near future, and if more grant money comes in, more improvements will be made.

But securing buildings is just part of the effort. The school also have active-shooter drills during the school year and training for teachers during summer break.

”Every year we have schools do safety audits in the spring of the year and then make any changes for the fall. And those changes would be to our entrance control plans, to our emergency management plans, to our evacuation, reunification plan. And so we put all that into place and we’ll have drills with our students and our staff during the school year.”

Hartjes also saying it’s a community effort: If you see something, say something.

“We just simply want parents, staff, students to have their eyes open and ears open, to be looking and listening for any type of threat that may happen.”

This year the Appleton Area School District will use a new, free app called “Speak Up, Speak Out” in partnership with the DOJ. Students and staff can use it to report any threats.

"Originally it was just the high schools that we were worried about school safety, but now it's everywhere."