PROVO — Elected officials, police chiefs and moms with babes in arms alike got a crash course in school safety features the minute they stepped inside Edgemont Elementary School for Rep. John Curtis' School Safety Summit on Monday afternoon.
Everyone who enters the school is funneled into the school office, where they sign in and are presented a visitor tag on school lanyard. Once the school office staff is satisfied they have legitimate reason to enter the school, a door leading to school is unlocked by a remote switch.
Edgemont, one of the newest schools in the Provo School District, features some of the latest school safety and security measures, such as strategically placed surveillance cameras and architectural features that provide clear lines of sight so intruders have no place to hide.
In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting in which 17 students and staff were killed and 17 others injured, Provo School District Superintendent Keith Rittel directed his staff to re-evaluate the district's safety procedures and practices. He has also convened a safety committee that includes community partners who are all seeking to improve and align their actions.
When asked if airport-level security is the next step for schools, Rittel said metal detectors are only as effective as the systems put in place to use them.
"From my point of view, everything is on the table but it's got to be functional and it should not be detracting from our education. So, if that means I've got to allocate more scarce resources to that level of security while I'm taking away from the ability of teachers to teach reasonably sized classes, it's going to be a bit of a challenge," Rittel said.
While speakers addressed school safety measures from student-led Hope Squads, the SafeUT app, advances in technology to providing specialized gun training to school employees, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he convened the meeting to get a better grasp how the federal government can target funding and support effective local strategies through changes in federal policy.
"Part of why we did this today is to mine, find and mature all those ideas out there where we have broad agreement," Curtis said.
It was also an opportunity to share best practices, judging from some of the questions posed by attendees, he said. Some asked about architectural features in schools such as windows on classroom interior doors or windows adjacent to doors. Others questioned whether schools should be designed to help students and staff hide from intruders or to escape them.
"This is a group that can help. I think we need to be careful that we follow up on that," Curtis said.
Curtis said he has also considered whether Utah should form a working document on school safety akin to the Utah Compact, which outlined principles to guide the immigration debate.
Curtis said much of his adult life has been spent designing shooting ranges. With that in mind, Curtis said he seeks effective solutions to school safety that are "in harmony with the Second Amendment."
Salt Lake Police Lt. Stefhan Bennett said he was impressed by the panel that offered a layered approach to addressing school safety.
"My kids ask me these questions all the time. I personally don't want my kids going to school in a prison. The metal detector thing has always scared me. It needs to be a learning environment. It needs to be safe. It needs to be open. That comes with that layered approach," he said.
Bill Provencher, representing the Range Growth Association, group of commercial indoor small shooting range owners, said the industry stands ready to provide specialized firearms training to school employees.
"If you're going to carry, training is really important because (you) need to know what to do. It's not like law enforcement training. It's a very specific training for very specific circumstances," Provencher said.
Not everybody is meant to have a gun nor is "everybody able to shoot a fellow student that's a 15 year old. It's quite a difficult circumstance. So what (range owners and trainers) are trying to do come up with a regular program that can be shared across the country," he said.
In Utah, teachers and administrators are allowed to have concealed weapons in their possession at school. Schools are not allowed to inquire whether employees are carrying concealed weapons.
However, most school districts have policies that say the use of concealed weapons is outside the scope of employment.
Liabilities or claims related to an employee's decision to carry, threaten use or use a weapon are the sole responsibility of the employee without protection from or the school district, policies state.
Curtis asked Provo school officials whether there should be incentives to assist school employees who want to carry concealed weapons and are willing to undergo extensive training.
"Or do we just find this very scary and threatening?" he asked.
McKay Jensen, president of the Provo City School District Board of Education, said liability is a significant concern for school districts. "We're concerned about the liability of a twisted ankle on a soccer field," he said.21 comments on this story
Rittel said one step the school district has taken is hiring more social workers to enhance school safety, climate and academic achievement. The school district likely has more than any other district statewide, he said.
Jensen said those resources clearly help reduce school violence and contribute to the school district's academic mission.
"It's difficult for us to determine how the incentives for firearms fits around our mission. We don't want to shy away from it, but how do we fit it in our mission?" he said.