A newspaper investigation has found lax security at several schools in Campbell County.
Following a spate of recent school shootings around the country, a school administrator in Gillette last Tuesday put out a news release saying schools there were following security procedures. That prompted the (Gillette) News-Record to launch its investigation.
The newspaper recruited two people to enter schools in the city and wander around to see if anyone asked them who they were and what they were doing.
Under Campbell County School District guidelines, visitors must stop at a front office, sign in and receive a sticker or a badge before they can go further into the school.
However, the newspaper found that staff at only three of the 10 schools stopped the two visitors immediately. Staff at three other schools stopped the visitors only after they had spent several minutes walking around, and staff at four schools never stopped them.
Ann Franscell, editor of the Gillette newspaper, said Monday that the investigation continued until school administrators started e-mailing each other to warn what the newspaper was up to.
“We had a press release earlier in the week from the school district, that basically said ‘our schools are safe and we have all these policies in place, and the procedures are being followed,'” Franscell said. “We knew as reporters that the schools are basically open.”
Franscell said the investigation found that the schools could do a better job of security. While she said some school administrators were angry, she said others were thankful that the investigation had been done.
“I had no letters today,” Franscell said. “I had one phone call on Friday from a parent, who did not think that we should print the story.”
The investigation started on Thursday, and by that afternoon the local high school had installed a large visitors’ desk in the middle of the entryway, Franscell said.
“The schools have made some adjustments,” Franscell said.
In response to the findings of its investigation, the newspaper quoted school administrators as saying it’s impossible to have a perfect security system for schools.
“Unless we make it a prison state, we’re never going to get to where we can say they’re totally safe there,” said Associate Superintendent Boyd Brown, the administrator who put out the press release last week saying the school district was following security procedures.
Dave Foreman, principal at Twin Spruce Junior High, said he was amazed that the visitor to his school wasn’t approached.
Foreman said he will instruct the head custodian to check every door on the school first thing every morning. He said he will talk to the office staff about paying more attention to who enters the school.
“We’re going to do it again and again and again and get it right,” Foreman said. “You just hope and pray that nothing like that ever happens on your watch.”