Pittsburgh-area schools add new security measures for new school year

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It was a Friday in December when a gunman attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six adult staff members.

By Saturday, Seneca Valley School District Superintendent Tracy Vitale and other officials in the Butler County district had met with local police authorities.

By Sunday, the district had sent a message out to parents, saying officers from local police agencies would be patrolling school buildings on Monday to provide enhanced security.

"We visit safety plans every year, but [the Sandy Hook shooting] made us look really hard at it," Ms. Vitale said.

The Connecticut shooting prompted school districts across the country to examine and adjust their security procedures, and this fall, as a new school year begins, parents and students at several Pittsburgh-area school districts may notice that additional security measures have been put in place.

Including at Seneca Valley, where starting this week officers from local police departments will conduct unannounced, occasional patrols inside school buildings and on the school grounds.

By December, all the district's school buildings will have what Ms. Vitale called "captured entrances," or entrances that direct visitors into an office rather than directly into hallways.

"It's a constant balance between education and kids feeling comfortable and feeling safe and feeling relaxed," she said.

Other districts are trying to strike the same balance.

At the South Fayette School District, all school buildings have now been updated to include similar captured entrances.

The Avonworth School District has installed a buzzer system in each of its buildings to control the entrance of visitors.

In the West Mifflin Area School District, security updates include an upgrade to the surveillance camera system, an update to visitor sign-in policies and new devices to lock classroom doors from the inside.

Another visible change was made at Hosack Elementary School in North Allegheny School District. The building opened in 1972 with an open classroom design without subdividing walls, a design modified in 1999. But more walls and doors were added this summer to create individual classrooms that can be locked.

The district had planned to make the $201,100 change prior to the Sandy Hook shooting, said Rob Gaertner, the district's facilities director, but the shooting moved up the timeline.

"That kind of pushed it over the edge," he said.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.

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