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Security Tightens At Lebanon High

Solomon Mellish, 14, second from right, tosses a bag of equipment at Cameron Stone, 15, left, while waiting with Matt Eylander, 14, right, for the Lebanon football team bus outside the locker room at Lebanon High School, Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The locker room door is one of several at the school equipped with an electronic key card reader installed last spring so it can be unlocked by students and staff. 
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Solomon Mellish, 14, second from right, tosses a bag of equipment at Cameron Stone, 15, left, while waiting with Matt Eylander, 14, right, for the Lebanon football team bus outside the locker room at Lebanon High School, Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The locker room door is one of several at the school equipped with an electronic key card reader installed last spring so it can be unlocked by students and staff. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

Lebanon — When Lebanon High School students return from summer vacation next week, they will be issued swipe cards to access the building.

The school is one of many across the region who have restricted access to facilities in the wake of tragedies such as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

“We’re trying to be proactive before anything happens at Lebanon High School,” said School Board member Hank Tenney.

School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey described the increased vigilance — including security cameras, alarms and locked doors — as “part of the day and age going forward.”

The cards may be familiar to some, as they were handed out at the end of last school year, but this will be the first full school year where building access will be managed in this manner.

Staff members have digital keys to swipe before entering the building, but guests must press a button and answer a secretary’s questions before being admitted.

Lebanon High School Principal Tom Marshall, new this year after working as assistant principal of Oxbow Union High School in Bradford, said the school is the “most secure” he has worked in.

Marshall also worked at Spaulding High School in Barre, Vt., Northfield Middle and High School in Northfield, Vt., and Richford High School in Richford, Vt.

Most staff and students have cards that allow access to the school only during certain hours. Teachers are allowed access to the building between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., and students can enter from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Marshall said. Some administrators and custodians have access at all times, he said.

In addition to the regularly scheduled access times, staff and students may gain access at other times for extracurricular activities.

Director of Facilities Dana Arey said an associated software program can be used to schedule access to accommodate extracurricular activities.

The cost of the safety upgrades, including electronic latches, relocating handicapped-accessible hardware, updating the communication system, electrical work and additional security cameras, is being paid for with a fund balance of $78,000 left from last year’s school budget.

“Purchase orders haven’t exceeded that amount,” said Business Administrator Tim Ball in an email. He said actual costs should be available in a few weeks.

Garrette Marx, 17, a rising senior at Lebanon High from Hartland, said he didn’t find the swipe cards to be disruptive to his day.

“It’s the same as any secure building in D.C.,” he said. “Nowadays people are going to have to get used to it.”

Marx said he keeps his card in his wallet and holds the wallet up to the scanner to activate the doors. He also noted that there is a side entrance near where students get off buses that has not been locked.

English and social studies teacher Deb Nelson said the process of entering the locked high school reminds her of visiting her father on a secure floor in a nursing home.

Nelson, a 23-year educator, said that while she understands “parental concern about student safety,” she finds the security system to be “almost jarring.”

Former School Board member Al Patterson, a Hanover police officer, said that while he values the safety of the students, he was not convinced that the swipe card system was the best use of taxpayers’ money.

Patterson said he would prefer to spend the money to hire another school resource officer. Since 2006, the school district has partnered with the city’s police department to employ Gregory Parthum, who works primarily in the high school, as a resource officer.

Patterson said a swipe card system is shortsighted, noting there’s little to stop an unauthorized person from using a card or keeping a student from letting others into the building.

“All you’re doing is creating an honor system,” he said. “Is a child really going to challenge somebody who’s not supposed to come in?”

Patterson, however, was enthusiastic about other components of the security system.

“Surveillance cameras are great,” he said.

Students in the district’s other three schools will not receive key cards, but staff will. Visitors have to wait for a secretary to buzz them into the building.

The security systems are already in place at Mount Lebanon Elementary and at the middle school. Arey anticipated the installation of a new vestibule entryway and lock upgrades at Hanover Street School, also paid for from the year end balance, to be completed in mid-September.

Lebanon isn’t alone. Safety is on the minds of school officials elsewhere in the region.

For example, the rehabilitation of Stevens High School in Claremont includes cameras, door alarms and a monitored front entrance, which will have a window with a camera and speaker. Guests will need to be recognized by the attendant before they are allowed in.

Dave Putnam, chairman of the school’s building renovation committee, said “parents are very concerned” by national news of security threats and “kids getting hurt.”

He said the School Board, where he served for 16 years, takes its responsibility for protecting students’ safety “very seriously.”

A key card system for staff is on the docket for the near term, while swipe cards for students are being considered for the future, Putnam said.

On the Hartford High School website, a message from Principal Joe Collea alerts the community to the need for an increased focus on security.

“In a world where terrorist zealots and deranged people seek vulnerable targets, schools unfortunately present an easy mark,” Collea wrote. “Schools are not the islands of peace, tranquility, and most of all safety which they once were.”

Hartford High has installed surveillance cameras, conducted “clear the hall” drills and instructed students and staff to say something if someone seems out of place.

Hartford keeps all its doors locked, except for the front door, at all times. Because the high school students are allowed to come and go, it would “take more extensive planning” to sort out a way to also lock the front door during the day, Collea said.

He said Hartford school officials have discussed implementing a swipe card system similar to Lebanon’s, but they haven’t made the upgrades yet due in part to “limited resources.”

Of Lebanon’s recent improvements, Collea said, “Let them work the glitches out and then we can do it.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.