Lock Down: CFHS to begin locking doors after killings in Florida school

In the wake of the latest mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 and wounded many more, school safety has emerged as an important issue to be tackled by students, teachers and administrators, especially at Cedar Falls High School, where almost all of the doors are unlocked and hallways and classrooms full of students and staff are accessible by virtually anyone.

Previously, the only barrier between the school’s 1,131 students and 90 teachers and the next mass shooting seemed to be the blind hope that the school will not be the next to experience such a heinous crime, but now plans are in place to change.

The high school will be implementing a policy starting Monday, March 5, that all eight entrances will be locked from outside, and anyone who needs to enter the building will do so through in the main doors by the attendance office, which is monitored throughout the day.

The current Cedar Falls High School building was opened in 1954, when the concept of a school shooting was absent from the public consciousness.

The school consists of three buildings; the main building; the annex, which houses metal technology; and an alternative program on Cedar Heights Drive. The main building has four lower floor entrances and five main floor entrances, and houses no technology to prevent or deter the shootings that have become increasingly common in America in the last two decades besides the the front-office being the only entrance that is constantly monitored and requires visitors to present valid identification to enter the school building.

“Since we don’t frequently monitor the camera system to see who is coming in and out of the building, we have a sign that hopefully people read that says they have to bring their driver’s license and sign in at the main office,” secretary Angela Skarlis said.

Upon a visitor’s entry, Skarlis scans the visitors’ IDs into a machine called the Raptor Visitor Management System, an innovative technology system which provides instant screening of registered sex offender databases in all 50 states and keeps a record of all visitors by scanning a visitor’s driver’s license, according to the company’s website.

However, because the only thing that directs visitors to the screening is a paper sign taped to the front door, the system is flawed and provides a large margin for error or disaster.

“Ideally, our building would be set up so that it forces people to walk through the office first. A lot of the elementary schools are now set up that way,” Skarlis said. “When they walk in now, even though we have the sign that says everybody has to check in at the main office, there’s no one standing there making them do that.”

The school administration recognizes these flaws and has begun talks of new solutions to the largely accessible doors of the building. During the  week following the Parkland tragedy, principal Jason Wedgbury invited class leadership groups and department chairs to weigh all perspectives when the topic of school safety and school shootings arose.

Since, 2015, the high school has allowed more student autonomy than ever before when Power Hour was created, which serves as a lunch hour for students to move freely around the building, inside and out, to seek teachers’ help and have the luxury of an off-campus lunch.

“As we reflect, we also have to acknowledge that we have a very open campus, very free, in and out, while regardless of your set up, you can’t guarantee 100 percent safety. We certainly needed to take steps to improve our situation, and that’s our goal,” Wedgbury said.

When implementing this policy of all locked entrances, Wedgbury said that there would be some inconveniences to not only students but teachers due to the unique setup of the high school.

“Our building and set up is not efficient. We’ve added onto this building multiple times through various renovations, and the flow of this building, doesn’t make sense.” Wedgbury said.

Because the basement of the school doesn’t connect, the student flow through the math wing entrance and the enterance that connects to the athletic wing of the school is heavy, and there is no way in stopping that in passing periods.

Adults will now be monitoring and supervising all three entrances during the current four-minute passing periods, and as soon as the four minutes are up, the outside doors will be locked once again.

“Considering schools, that is where we come to be safe, and we don’t want to jeopardize student safety in any way, shape or form,” Wedgbury said. “We want adults and students to feel safe within their school setting. School isn’t a place where you should feel unsafe.”

Wedgbury said that locking all doors from the outside is an initial step.

He also said all student leadership teams may be follow up steps and more safety precautions to come in the future.

“I want the student body advocating and understanding,” Wedgbury said as he stood before the Cedar Falls’ Senior Leadership group during power hour on Feb. 21. Students asked tough questions, and Wedgbury was there to hear their concerns.

“When it comes to my personal experience in the CAPs education program, I went to Holmes [Junior High], Lincoln [Elementary], Peet [Junior High], [Waterloo] West High,” senior Tristan Snell said. “I think that we should lock all the doors after, and it should be a front door funnel because every other school does the exact same thing.”

Wedgbury explained that unlike other schools in the district, Cedar Falls is lacking in a more concrete way to buzz in visitors, but that the school is actively working to find measures that will work just as well.

“We are the only building in our district that you do not have to be buzzed in. That’s unfortunate,” Wedgbury said. “Given our current setup, we can’t do that. That would cost a lot of renovation, but we want to make it so that there is at least an adult presence that can monitor and see people who come in and out.”

After a senior asked a question about the school’s surveillance system, Wedgbury explained that the cameras had recently been upgraded to ensure that every entrance could be monitored, if need be, although there is no constant monitor of the film. “We just had [the cameras] updated,” Wedgbury said. “We have significantly upgraded what used to be a decent camera system.”

Another point raised during the discussion was the use of drills to prepare for dangerous intruders. Today, as opposed to air raid drills that were common during the early years of the building’s career, Cedar Falls Community School District requires “not less than one dangerous conducted during each school year” as outlined in series 902.2, school safety, section c in the Board policies, which was last revised in April of 2014.

“I know that we can become desensitized to drills because we do them often and people don’t always take things seriously.” senior Clare Rolinger said, “but after situations like this, it is a really good opportunity to have discussions about how to prepare.”

“I do think that sometimes we have to put the pause button on academics and have the conversation.”  Wedgbury replied.

“We’re all in this together,” school resource officer Zach Ladage said.

Ladage said he believes that school safety is up to everyone. That includes students, staff, administrative figures and school resource officers, and that the blame cannot be placed on one thing or one person.

“You can’t just pin that on locking the doors,” he said. “It’s all of our responsibility.”

Ladage’s opinion is based on the family dynamic when it comes to questions why school shootings occur.  He said there is a lot to do with mental health, home life and social media.

Ladage said that gun control isn’t the underlying issue within all school and mass shootings in the United States.

“We can take actions, make plans and lock doors, but that isn’t going to fix everything. I think it really comes down to that we’re all in it together,” Ladage said.

Upon meetings with the leadership groups at the high school, leaders have risen in this time of grief and crisis, and inspiring stories have transpired since the tragic Parkland school shooting on Feb., 14.

The next big date to look at is coming up in a few weeks: March 14, which will be one month since the shooting in Florida. The Women’s March Empower group is planning a national school walkout, according to the group’s website. No matter the time zone, at 10 a.m., students, faculty, administrative figures and allies are encouraged to walk out of class for a total of 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in the worst high school shooting in America since the Columbine shooting.

“I think students absolutely have the right to march and have their voices heard, as long as it’s appropriate,” Ladage said.

Another popular date buzzing throughout all media outlets is March 24, or better known as the day we march for our lives.

Student organizers, including and led by survivors of Parkland, have planned a march in Washington, D.C., to demand safer schools and gun control laws.

Lastly, April 20, has been named the National High School Walkout day. Started by Connecticut student Lane Murdock and others, social media has been flooded with the hashtag “#NationalSchoolWalkout calls for students to walk out on the 19th anniversary of the horrific Columbine shooting.” No specifics have been shared, just the message that students all over the country are banding together through this walkout and vow not to return until congress makes serious changes to current gun laws in our country.

“If people truly understand why they are involved in a school walk out for a national movement, that doesn’t cause me concern because that is a well intentioned way to bring focus to a real issue,” Wedgbury said, “but if people just participate because everyone else is doing it and they don’t understand how that action creates other action, then I don’t think it serves a purpose.”

Wedgbury said if there is action and follow up steps after these national marches and walkouts, he said he can definitely be in support of it.

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