By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
DANVILLE — A year after the Sandy Hook tragedy and only a few days after a school shooting in Colorado, schools have been giving careful consideration to how they can be safer.
“I think the biggest issue is that people are more aware now,” said John Bickhart, Danville Primary School principal. “Society in general is more diligent in looking at the environment, making sure everything is safe.”
The Danville school district had been undergoing a complete revision to its all-hazard plan in the summer of 2012, right before the attack in Newtown, Conn. “It was fresh on our radar, being prepared for these types of things. It’s a push to make sure we’re prepared,” Bickhart said.
One drastic change brought on by the new plan was to ensure that doors are locked at all times. “It’s very easy to make sure a door is closed and immediately locked,” Bickhart said. Adult staff members are more diligent as well in ensuring that only one person enters the building at a time and that all visitors sign in and sign out. “I feel pretty comfortable that we’re constantly monitoring and doing what’s expected,” he said.
Schools in the district also practice lockdown drills about once a month, said Charles Smargiassi, principal of Danville Middle School. “We want to make sure everyone understands exactly what to do in situations like that,” he said. Smargiassi has also had conversations with faculty where they’ve reviewed tough questions about what to do in case of shootings. “One thing that came of (Sandy Hook) was a heightened awareness of what to do in situations like this,” Smargiassi said.
“The drills are taken much more seriously,” agreed Lee Gump, principal of Danville High School. Before Sandy Hook, people thought a shooting could not happen at an elementary school, but that perception has since changed, Gump said.
An active shooter training exercise was also conducted at the high school earlier in December by law enforcement officers. “Just in case something happens, they would know the layout of our building,” Gump said.
At some high schools, though not Danville, there has actually been talk about changing the policy of having staff run and hide from any attackers and instead encouraging them to distract assailants by throwing objects at them, Gump said. The discussion centers around whether the old policies regarding armed intruders are still the best way of handling them.