Safety, security details changing in Issaquah schools
March 26, 2014
By Neil Pierson
New: March 26, 1:42 p.m.
Shortly before Ron Thiele took the reins as the Issaquah School District’s superintendent last July, the district began looking at ways to heighten security for its 18,000-plus students.
Officials chose to conduct a safety and security assessment of Issaquah’s 24 schools, as well as its administrative, service and transportation centers.
Michelle Trifunovic, the district’s executive director of middle schools, took charge of the initiative, and the district spent $30,000 to hire a professional school safety expert who could find chinks in the armor.
Martin Speckmaier, a former police officer who now heads Comprehensive School Safety, a Seattle-based firm, toured all of the district’s facilities and spoke with dozens of school officials during a six-week period last fall. He also gave principals a lengthy survey in which they were asked various questions and allowed to provide feedback on their building’s security and safety, Trifunovic said.
“It wasn’t just looking at your locks and your doors or your signage,” she explained. “It was also looking at what kind of programs you have for harassment and intimidation and bullying. It was more than just your facilities.”
The district received Speckmaier’s report in December and began discussing the results with an advisory committee. The group includes various administrators, school resource officers, and members of local police and fire agencies.
Trifunovic said the committee is scheduled to meet for the second time March 26, and has identified a couple of broad areas for improvement – controlling access to school buildings and property, and developing a standardized safety plan for the whole district that focuses on training for staff members.
School officials aren’t publicizing many details of Speckmaier’s assessment.
“We don’t want to ‘alert the bad guys’ to areas we are working on improving,” said Lorraine Michelle, the district’s executive director of communications.
Officials spoke publicly about the assessment, though, at a March 12 school board study session. Thiele said then it’s been invaluable to work with emergency responders on developing safer plans for schools.
“The world of safety and security is also changing,” he said. “Your first responders, they’re constantly learning and changing procedures, and if we learn from them, we’ll change our policies and procedures.
“This work is never done. It’s ongoing work.”
Individual schools have already been revamping their security plans. At Sunny Hills Elementary, Principal Leslie Lederman sent an email to families earlier this month that detailed the changes.
Sunny Hills staff are now asking students to report people who aren’t wearing identification badges. New video cameras are being installed, bringing the school’s total number of cameras to 15. The school also closed a gate on the back side of its property, adjacent to residential units and some portable classrooms, and is funneling foot traffic to the front of the main building.
Lederman also said she’s spoken with Issaquah and Sammamish police about the arrival of Tent City IV, a homeless camp, at nearby Faith United Methodist Church.
Lederman said she visited with Tent City officials, who were cooperative and expressed support for keeping their residents off school property. The school investigated a report of a woman on campus with a dog, and determined she was not a Tent City resident.
Trifunovic said the changes at Sunny Hills are consistent with what could happen at other schools in the near future.
“In general, we want to minimize access points to buildings,” she said. “In a perfect world, you’d say everybody funnels through one entry point, but when you start to look at it in context, you say, ‘That doesn’t make sense for most of our campuses, because most of our campuses have portables.’ So what do you do with that?”
In April 2012, district voters approved a bond measure that, in part, funds security upgrades. Some of that work has started, Trifunovic said, including $2.65 million for video surveillance and $2.16 million for electronic key cards.
The work won’t be finished for a few years, but should make buildings safer overall, Trifunovic said.
“You’re really using (cameras) as a deterrent, you hope,” she said. “And then if something happens, you can go back and you can actually use it for investigation.”