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New security measures in place on campus
Gini Kieffer uses the new buzzer system to let someone into Mashburn Elementary on Friday. The security measure was installed over the summer at every elementary school in the Forsyth County system. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Visitors to any Forsyth County elementary school this fall likely have noticed a new layer of security after the system installed buzzers at each of their entrances over the summer.

“We were a little concerned that people would complain about the inconvenience, but the only feedback that’s come to our office has been positive,” said Todd Shirley, the district’s director of school safety and student discipline.

“The elementary [school] people are very appreciative of it because they don’t have a stationed school resource officer that’s there all day.”

School Superintendent Buster Evans said safety efforts have long been a priority for the system, but officials “probably accelerated it somewhat in response to the things that happened down in Newtown.”

A year ago this week, a 20-year-old gunman fatally shot 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“We were already moving toward it and I think it was a good move,” Evans said of the increased security. “I think our people have adjusted very well.”

The unassuming buzzers are essentially just door bells that alert the administrative desk stationed by the door. But with them, doors can be kept locked during school hours, buying some time to ensure the person on the other end is not suspicious.

“We’ve spoken to all our front office people and certainly if they feel something’s not right, they’re to make someone wait at the door until they can get help,” Shirley said. “It’s designed to be a deterrent and to give us a few extra seconds or minutes to assess the situation.”

The buzzers were a recommendation from the system’s safety committee, which is made up of first responders, parents, principals, safety department, facilities and county office staff.

In addition to the buzzers, schools keep monitor logs and maintain consistent receptionist staffing, who “have probably the best feel for who is constantly coming in and out of the building,” Shirley said.

With implementation complete in elementary schools, the system is looking at its middle schools. Given the different style of front entrances, however, the buzzer setup could require some reconfiguring.

And with the exception of Lambert, which was built with buzzers, the district’s high schools won’t be getting them. There’s a school resource officer stationed at each campus, Shirley said, so the buzzers aren’t a priority.

“We just installed the lockdown buttons this summer,” he said. “We would like to add additional camera support at high schools, but all in all we feel very comfortable. The most important thing is having that school resource officer presence.”

The buttons, which indicate a schoolwide code red lockdown, are at all the system’s schools, including the Hill Educational Center and central office, Shirley said.

The buttons are wired to the county’s emergency management center, which dispatches authorities to a campus. There’s no way to call off response teams, Shirley said.

Evans said the system will continue working to increase safety, because “safety is an ongoing type of thing.”

“You do anything you can to try to create the environment that both ensures our children are as safe as they can be, and that they are safe and their parents see that they’re safe,” Evans said. “Evaluation of our safety program is a continual process.”