Securing Schools in Tulsa, Okla.-Area

Security guards and surveillance cameras enhance safety in area high schools, but the eyes and ears of teachers and staff members remain the best prevention against school violence.

More than six years have passed since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., before killing themselves, but the massacre's impact is still felt at high schools, where safety is perhaps as important as test scores.

Lockdowns, locker checks and closed campuses are some measures schools have implemented since Columbine.

Five area principals agree that since the shootings at Columbine, teachers and students are more aware of signs of trouble.

"The biggest change has been the awareness of school atmosphere and how important it is to school safety," said Stan Trout, principal of Owasso High School. "To me, the biggest impact has been in the emphasis in thinking about the general climate that you have in your school.

"An administrator's worst nightmare is to have something occur on campus that jeopardizes the safety and lives of students on campus."

Campus police

East Central High School in Tulsa and Catoosa High School have campus security in their buildings. Owasso, Collinsville and Verdigris High School do not.

Security guards at East Central and Catoosa patrol the halls and watch the main entrance of the building so intruders cannot enter the building without identifying themselves or their purpose.

Catoosa Campus Police: Since the Catoosa Campus Police Department began providing security at the high school seven years ago, no gun has been found on campus, and no teacher has been attacked by students, according to officials.

Connie Cypert, principal at Catoosa, said the school is a safer place because of campus police.

"I think our kids probably feel more secure than other kids at other schools," Cypert said. "If our campus police was not here, that would disturb our student body."

The campus officers keep records of all crime, including fights, theft, bullying, possession of weapons other than guns, and drug- and alcohol-related incidents, said Kevin McKim, chief of the campus police.

If officers hear of a threat, they are quick to intervene.

"If a kid is threatened by another kid, they come down here to talk to the principal or assistant principal," McKim said. "At that time, they (officials) determine if we need to get involved, because if we get involved, it is a criminal act."

East Central security guards: Although school officials said no guns were seized at East Central last year, records provided by the Education Service Center of Tulsa Public Schools show that five weapons other than guns were confiscated.

Principal Tom O'Malley would not comment on what those weapons were, but examples could include knives, brass knuckles or even knitting needles.

Charles Love, site supervisor of security at East Central, said intervention and interaction with students are the best ways security guards can prevent crime.

"If you see a situation erupting, you want to confront it before it gets too out of control," he said.

"A lot of these kids -- they take problems from home and bring them to school, so if we can interact with them before they meet a certain enemy that they have problems with, it could prevent them from being suspended, kicked out of school and somebody getting hurt."

Bullying

The tragedy at Columbine has caused high schools to take a stronger stance against bullying, and Owasso offers conflict resolution classes as part of its anti-bullying program, Trout said.

"Our teachers are trained to recognize the signs of bullying and victimization of students," he said.

A conflict-resolution class is available to any student who requests it. The district also requires any student who is involved in an altercation to participate in the class, he said.

Bullying also is addressed in student handbooks at area schools.

O'Malley said a TPS code of conduct defines proper school behavior -- bullying is not tolerated.

"Tulsa Public Schools last year took a very stern look at bullying and harassment," O'Malley said. "It is emphasized in the code of conduct, and it's one of the things that we talk about: Don't do it."

East Central teachers also discuss proper behavior with students at the beginning of the school year, calling attention to unacceptable actions, he said.

Established drills

All schools conduct random locker checks, and drug dogs are used to sniff lockers to see if students are hiding drugs.

Backpacks and cars in the parking lot may be searched if teachers suspect something illegal, Trout said.

Procedures are in place should a crisis occur.

Today, lockdown drills -- emergency situations that require schools to lock classroom doors and entrances into the building -- are as common as tornado and fire drills.

Lockdowns can prevent an outside intruder from entering a classroom and the building.

A school might go into lockdown in the event of an armed robbery at a nearby store or a shooting in a nearby neighborhood.

Last year, East Central went into lockdown when a worker at a local company was killed in her office by her ex-husband, O'Malley said.

McKim said teachers at the school take lockdown drills seriously, because they know the drills are designed to ensure safety during an emergency.

"Teachers are trained the first of the year on what to do in their classrooms during a lockdown, and what to do with their kids," McKim said. "Once teachers hear a code from the principal, they are to lock their doors in their classroom and secure their students to stay until they are escorted out by a law enforcement officer into a safe zone."

Security at Owasso H.S.

Although Owasso has a larger enrollment than East Central, the school does not have campus security guards. The district recently applied for a grant that would have paid for campus police at the high school, but it was denied funds because the school did not have enough incidents of reported crime, Trout said.

Last year, no weapons were found at the school, he said, and no member of the school's student council thinks security guards are needed at the school.

"I feel it would be an invasion of privacy, because we have a pretty good school," said Cameron Hutton, a senior member of the student council. "We've done this well so far and don't feel we need anything like that."

The school's size and lack of campus police, however, have caused the school to establish a good working relationship with the Owasso Police Department. In the event of a crisis, police would be at the school within five minutes, Trout said.

Security at Verdigris H.S>

Of the five area high schools, Verdigris is the only one that does not have surveillance cameras in its buildings that take video images of the school and parking lot.

Randy Risenhoover, principal at Verdigris, said because of the school's small enrollment, district officials do not believe cameras are needed.

"We just don't have the problems that we hear about elsewhere," he said.

At Verdigris, teachers instruct students about what to do in case of an emergency. Teachers are writing procedures for handling emergency situations. The procedures will be posted on classroom bulletin boards for students to see, Risenhoover said.

Security Collinsville H.S.

Collinsville High School is about five miles north of Owasso. School officials reported no weapons on campus last year, but vandalism and destruction of school property prompted the district to place surveillance cameras in the high school for the first time last March, said Principal Cory Slagle.

The cameras have stopped vandalism, and students have fewer conflicts or fights at school because they know they will be caught on camera, he said.

Earlier this month, five Collinsville students and a teacher attended a statewide safe-school summit sponsored by the state Department of Education. Senior Rebyl Richardson, who attended the summit, said it emphasized the importance of making good decisions and realizing the consequences of one's actions.

Despite the fact that Collinsville has few instances of crime at school, and an enrollment about half the size of Owasso's, Slagle understands that schools need to take steps to prevent school violence.

"We used to think it can't happen to us. It (Columbine) has gotten rid of that," Slagle said. "We realize it can happen anywhere, so we prepare for it."


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