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Durango School District upgrades campus entryways for safety

Vestibules designed to improve security and eliminate distractions
Durango School District 9-R is remodeling the entryway to four schools this summer to regulate campus visitors (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Vestibules are being built on four Durango School District 9-R campuses this summer to improve campus security for the upcoming school year.

Campuses receiving vestibules include Durango High School, Escalante Middle School, Animas Valley Elementary School and Needham Elementary School. It is part of a three-year plan to implement vestibules at each school in the district funded through the 4A bond.

Vestibules are large, secured entryways where visitors must check in before gaining entry to the school. 9-R Director of Security Kathy Morris said the goal of the vestibules is not to create a prison-like atmosphere but to ensure safety and limit distractions at schools.

Morris

“It protects the learning and teaching environments,” she said. “Someone just can’t walk in and disrupt a classroom because they’re trying to deliver a lunch or pick up something from one of the students.”

Morris said the vestibules will be laid out for different visiting purposes. For example, there will be a check-in window and a secured waiting room for parents who may need to speak to a counselor or principal. The vestibules will also offer a drop-off window for parents to leave lunches and other items for students. And the areas will have video surveillance in case of suspicious activity.

Morris said the vestibules are one of many efforts made by the school district to promote safety. She said the vestibules alone are not going to solve all safety issues, but safety training in addition to the vestibules can significantly reduce dangers.

She mentioned students opening an exterior door for a stranger as an example of behavior the district is trying to discourage.

“Unless they know who that student is, they just need to redirect them to the front of the school to come through that secure area,” Morris said.

A security specialist with Durango High School checks to see if an ID-access card works on a door in August 2018 at the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

She said the district is not trying to keep innocent people from visiting the school, but rather establish a best practice to protect everyone.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of training and situational awareness,” Morris said. “Everyone is responsible for the security of their campus. So students and staff, we just have to make a cultural shift.”

In addition to the vestibules, the district is looking for funding to increase its partnership with law enforcement. The district has four student resource officers from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and Durango Police Department. But staffing shortages in law enforcement could hinder those efforts.

“SROs, they’re not our employees. So you know, as we face staffing shortages, so do our police departments,” Morris said.

The school district puts an emphasis on school safety each year, Morris said. The idea for vestibules comes from looking at what other schools are doing – or not doing. Staff members look at schools that have experienced shootings and address whether 9-R schools have the same vulnerabilities.

“We had some experts come in and do some assessments of our campuses,” she said. “And this is one of the recommendations they’ve made.”

Morris said the district made sure the vestibules looked welcoming in the design process. They will emphasize natural lighting to prevent people from feeling confined.

The 9-R administration does not want to deter people from visiting campuses, nor does it want its schools to appear vulnerable to those with ill intent.

“We’re really trying to ensure that the schools are following best practices to keep students safe, but also have uninterrupted learning and teaching opportunities,” Morris said.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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