Bethlehem schools take 'proactive' security steps

Ringing an outside buzzer at the now locked front entrance to every elementary school is one of the many new safety features installed in the Bethlehem school district.

The changes also include installation of security cameras and radios at the high school and camera monitors at all schools as part of a districtwide effort to secure the premises and limit access.

We need to know who is in our buildings, said Gregg Nolte, director of district operations and maintenance.

Many of the safety features were paid for through the $93 million district infrastructure bond that included structural improvements and expansion to all schools. New safety measures like swipe cards for student and faculty access will be paid from the recently approved Excel (Expanding Our Children's Education and Learning) Aid, which allows the district an additional $4.9 million in facilities funding.

The security initiatives are not a result of any specific security breach. Instead, the changes, which include motion detectors at the high school, are being viewed as vandalism deterrents by district officials.

"Yes, there has been vandalism at every single school, and, yes, this will reduce vandalism," Nolte said.

Upgrades to the district's security measures are being viewed as a positive step at both the elementary and high schools.

"The cameras are a great deterrent, and it helps us in evaluating a disciplinary situation," said high school principal Chuck Abba, who said the enhancements allow for better use of the six high school hall monitors.

"Cameras are becoming more common in schools and everyday life," said Abba, who has fielded a few complaints from students who have said they feel at times like they have entered a page of "1984," the George Orwell novel.

"It's more a sign of the times trying to be careful and proactive, setting a tone for students and everyone in the building," said Abba.

A letter was sent home to all parents identifying security changes.

Dave Ksanznak, principal of Hamagrael, said all doors are now locked, and the only way of getting in is to ring the front door buzzer.

"We are absolutely positive now no one can come through any other door but the front door," said Ksanznak.

The new security measures at the elementary school went into place on Nov. 6, and parents have been receptive so far.

"They have been very supportive of it," said Ksanznak.""

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