5 school districts land $210,000 in safety grants

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Pictured above is an example of a half wooden/half glass door that will be replaced with a full door panel with the exception of a small vision window panel, similar to what’s seen below. (Photos by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

Five local school districts have landed state grants for safety improvements, according to the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office. 

Beginning in June, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) awarded $55,939 to Wauzeka-Steuben for upgrading its intercom system and classroom doors; River Ridge $55,000 toward upgrading its front entry doors, security camera system and interior door locks; St. Mary’s in Bloomington $19,945 for improving its front doors and adding an electronic entry system; Seneca $57,829 toward door locks and security cameras; and Prairie Catholic School $21,340 toward security improvements.

Most of these advancements—intended to keep schools safe from violent attacks—will be in place by the time school begins this fall, or at least by the winterim. In addition, each of the grants includes emergency and mental health training for faculty and staff. 

“What we’ve seen with this since 1999 (the Columbine school shooting), tells us no school environment is exempt,” Wauzeka-Steuben Interim District Administrator Gary Albrecht said. “Like ours, many of these are tight-knit communities which are very invested in their schools. I’m sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to turn our schools into correctional facilities. We want them to be welcoming and comfortable for families coming in, but that sense of security is also an ultimate priority.”

At Wauzeka-Steuben, the former intercom system allowed only one all-out call. Yet, thanks to the grant, the upgrade makes available the advantage of communicating with different rooms separately in case of an emergency or intruder, Albrecht noted. For a majority of the classrooms, the district had half wooden/half glass doors. In order of priority, grant dollars will be used to replace those windows so the doors feature only smaller vision panels.

Albrecht said his staff and community are already greatly conscientious of safety. He said staff always has a hallway and entryway presence, especially at the beginning and end of each school day. 

River Ridge was one of the first 20 state schools to receive grant funding. Interim District Administrator Jeff Athey said he and the school district have realized for years that its front entrance is quite unsafe with its full window doors. A portion of the grant will be used toward applying safety window film to those doors. Such shatter-proof technology can help protect the area from break-ins and impact events. Plus, the security camera used at the front of the building has been upgraded to allow office staff to see visitors more clearly, he explained. 

Inside the K-12 school, the district has found a number of additional uses for the grant funds. Deadbolt locks are being obtained for all interior doors. About 10 two-way radios have been purchased for custodians and administration “just to increase the communication should someone need to be reached a lot quicker,” Athey stated. About eight extra security cameras are being placed and trauma kits were added to classrooms. 

According to Athey, schools can apply for a second round of DOJ grants and River Ridge intends to do so. The deadline is Aug. 15 and awards will be chosen in October.

“We may ask for pie-in-the-sky type things but the least they can say is ‘no,’” he said. 

One example of River Ridge’s request this second round is a reconstructed front entrance, “where visitors would step foot into an alcove first, then the office before entering the main hallway,” Athey said.

For the training aspect of these grants, he continued, he’s glad it includes a focus on dealing with socially and emotionally unwell kids who come to school, as teachers need such knowledge and skills.

Furthermore, at River Ridge, the district is in the process of rewriting its intruder plans. One day of in-service for the upcoming school year will include active shooter response training as well. Stop-the-bleed training is also in the works.

“It’s nice to say we have all these things in place, but they are the kind we hope we never have to use,” Athey added.

The wheels are also in motion for a program through which school teachers and staff can sign up to read certain books, about social and emotional wellness for instance, and then participate in workshops where their lessons are discussed before the techniques are applied in the school. This may be an area where the public can join the effort.

St. Mary’s School in Bloomington will take its recent grant money to replace the wooden doors installed at the school’s entrance in 1956. 

“Right now, we just lock the doors and manually get up to let people in,” Principal Julie Zenz said. 

All-glass doors will go in and the safety window shield will be added to them. Buzz-in operations and camera systems will be installed also.

Zenz said she feels these DOJ grants are a “very comprehensive offering” to include the physical upgrades and training too. 

“We’ve alerted people and counseled people for years. This gives us the opportunity to become up-to-date with all that may face us moving forward,” she said. 

Seneca will use its grant money toward electronic locks on exterior doors, 20 interior cameras, 10 exterior cameras, security film on the entryway doors, a visitor screening system for the front entrance plus a compatible computer, and replacement of 20 interior door knobs so they can be locked from inside the classroom.

Seneca District Administrator David Boland explained that installing the safety window film was a required piece of the grant award for the majority of school recipients, in addition to the three hours of staff training.

Work has quickly begun on the updates at Seneca Schools. “The state sent out possible vendor lists with acceptable costs,” Boland said. “We were encouraged to shop around.”

Luckily, Seneca had already researched these needs in anticipation of doing some of these safety projects anyway, so it was very beneficial and simple for the district, he noted.

“Unfortunately, these tragedies can happen anywhere, even movie theaters and shopping malls. It’s just the nature of our society today,” he said, expressing his appreciation for the assistance to make the meaningful improvements.

Grant applicants were required to partner with law enforcement agencies to ensure that proposed expenditures, visitor protocols, and school safety plans will be effective and provide students with the safest learning environment possible.

Prairie Catholic School was awarded $21,340 toward improvements at its facility in Prairie du Chien.

Other area grant recipients include: Cassville, $38,930; and North Crawford, $40,440.

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