BOE touts security at schools

Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf gave a security presentation at latest BOE meeting

School safety and providing a safe place to harbor learning are at the forefront of the Washington Township schools this year.

At the latest Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf gave a presentation about the safety measures in place for the upcoming school year.

“In my opinion, all the things we’re doing, the money we’re spending is well spent,” Bollendorf said. “In the end, the most important thing we can do is share information with each other. The best security is prevention. When we hear things, see things, we need to speak up.”

Bollendorf described the purchase of an electronic locking system for the entire district.

“Over a year ago, the board authorized the purchase,” he said. “We are nearly complete in doing that. We have not only completed the locking project but also the accompanying software.”

There will be software called Class provided by Sielox that works with the locks.

“Right now there’s a panic button in every main office, with the push of that button every classroom door can be locked,” Bollendorf said.

He added that with the software the doors can all be locked via smartphone or computer. The camera system can be integrated with the software as well.

“This could allow for a scenario by which all of the cameras would turn off, with empty hallways an assailant’s motion will set off and turn on the camera where their exact location is,” Bollendorf said.

The information can be mapped out and available for first responders.

“It’s real-time information,” Bollendorf said.

All 11 schools in the Washington Township School District are equipped with surveillance cameras in and around the building. There are more than 550 cameras in the district with opportunities for more and upgrades to older ones.

The school district has a signed memorandum of agreement with the police department that allows the district to provide access to the security cameras in the schools. In case of emergency, the police can go online and monitor the buildings and cameras.

Washington Township High School has two full-time, armed Washington Township police officers called school resource officers. New this year, there are three Special Law Enforcement Officers, SLEOs, whose job is to patrol the two middle schools and their descending elementary schools.

“If I’m assigned to Chestnut Ridge, my descending schools will be Hurffville and Wedgwood,” Bollendorf said. He added all three SLEOs will share responsibilities that relate to the Early Childhood Center.

“I think we’re very proactive here in Washington Township,” Chief of Police Pat Gurcsik said. “There’s nothing more important during the day shift, Monday through Friday, than the safety of our schools.”

Each school is required to do two drills per month — one fire drill and one security drill. Examples of security drills are emergency evacuations, bomb threats, lockdowns, lockouts, internal evacuations and active shooter drills. Bollendorf described a drill the schools participated in last year.

“Recently we had an incredibly thorough live demonstration of an active shooter situation at Bells School. It took the combined forces of our police department, fire department and rescue teams,” he said. “It was conducted like the real thing. Students played the part of victims and laid in the hallway, smoke was pumped into the building to simulate gunshots.”

First the “assailant” entered the building, then the police response and finally the rescue teams.

Bollendorf ended the presentation with a mantra, “See something, hear something, say something.” This promotes the role communication plays in security and prevention of these scenarios.