By Amanda Dyslin
---- — MANKATO — Beginning this fall, visitors to Mankato elementary schools will have to be buzzed in before they can enter a school, a change that has come about due to such tragedies as the Newtown shooting last December.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, Mankato Area Public Schools Supt. Sheri Allen asked emergency-response teams in each school to look at the procedures in place and the areas that need improvement.
One need that rose to the surface was an increased use of security cameras. And thanks to school-safety funds made available during the last legislative session, the district was able to act immediately to implement added safety measures, Allen said.
“We will be looking at more of the surveillance pieces in our schools, particularly main entries within our elementaries,” Allen said to the School Board at Monday night's meeting during the outline of the 2013-14 Health & Safety Report.
The exact dollar amount per pupil from the state hasn't been determined, but is estimated at about $6. In the meantime, the district is using capital dollars, Allen said. The cost for the surveillance system is about $3,000 at each school, she said.
There will be cameras at the entrances to each elementary school. Once students are in the building, the doors will be locked, and visitors will need to be buzzed in. At high schools there will be a visitor registration process.
Joe Meixl, health and safety director, told the board there are 823 volunteers district-wide involved in some aspect of health, safety and security, which shows the level of commitment and concern for ensuring students' well-being.
Allen and board members referenced Newtown and other incidents of school violence, and Board Chair Ann Hendricks expressed appreciation for Meixl's thorough report and desire to have “lots of sets of eyes on the safety plan.”
“You uncover it all. You show it all to the board. You work very hard,” Hendricks said, noting the “unnerving and unsettling” events going on nationwide in schools.
In August, a team of principals, counselors, bus drivers and others will be meeting at the Mankato Public Safety building for crisis training with emergency responders, firefighters, police and sheriff's deputies. Groups will be put at tables and given a crisis scenario unfolding at a school, Meixl said.
Each table has to make choices under pressure, he said.
“Then we'll step back at each interval and hear from people on, 'What did you do?'” Meixl said. “It kind of brings everybody together on what's available, what's expected.”