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RSF School board to vote on electronic locks

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The board will vote on putting an electronic locking system on the door of every occupied space on campus.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe School District will pursue an access control system, adding electronic locks to every campus door to help keep students, teachers and staff safe. The board made a decision to move forward with the full scope of the project at a special board meeting on Feb. 20 where safety consultant Jeff Kaye, of School Safety Operations, delivered his final report from a hazard and vulnerability study completed last year.

“The school has a high baseline in terms of safety and security, the door security project would add to the already high level of safety at the campus,” Kaye said.

Access control was part of the plans for Rowe’s reconstruction in 2010 but it was removed due to budget constraints. The system would outfit the door of every occupied space on campus (71 doors) with an electronic lock and there would also be ID card readers and perimeter gate controls. The cost for access control is about $400,000 up front with a $3,000 to $4,000 annual recurring cost for software upgrades.

Funding for the project would come from the capital facilities fund, which is separate from the general fund. The funds cannot be used for things like teacher salaries.

The official bid and contract will be voted on by the board at an upcoming meeting.

Currently, the school employs a conventional lock and key system which requires manual locking of all doors and various gates. With the current system, there is not a visual indicator from the inside as to whether the door is locked unless it is manually checked by opening the door.

“The end goal is to bring the district into compliance with recommended best practice based on Sandy Hook and what we saw in Parkland,” Kaye said referencing the two tragic school shooting incidents. “The recommended best practice is to have every door in the facility to be able to be locked without the use of a key and to be able to look at that door and know that it’s locked.”

Kaye advised the district to stay away from door locking options in which someone needs to open a door to make sure it is locked. A teacher was lost in Parkland who had to open a classroom door and he noted sadly that every fatality in Sandy Hook happened in the open office or an unlocked classroom.

In addition to the access control option that the board has been exploring for about a year, they also discussed alternative options such as electronic control for classrooms only; new mechanical locks for classrooms only; and a hybrid option that would install electronic control for the perimeter of campus and new mechanical locks for the classrooms.

Board members said they were ready to move forward with their original access control project, given the feedback received from parents, the safety committee, administration, staff and after having some concerns and questions about the system answered by Kaye.

“The funds are significant, they are available and I did not hear a compelling reason today that would stop that process,” RSF School District Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer said, recommending that the board not delay an action item further than next month.

President Sarah Neal said she wanted to hear from the vendor at the next board meeting to ensure that the annual cost would not exceed $4,000.

“It’s a big investment,” Neal said. “A lot of the reason this is even being considered right now is because we have those funds. We have to be very careful in my mind that the (long-term) costs don’t end up hitting our general budget and that we’re not committing to something that we can’t maintain.”

Brad Johnson, the district’s chief business officer, said about 4,000 schools use access control in various capacities but Rowe’s environment may be unique as like many Southern California campuses, all of the classroom doors are accessed from the outside rather than an interior hallway.

Last year district staff conducted site visits to observe fully-deployed systems and draft a project scope for Rowe. Technology Director Ben Holbert said with their scoping they started with the classrooms, where the children are, and then worked outward to the perimeter.

“We feel because of the layout of the rooms and how interconnected they are, that’s a sense of vulnerability we’ve been concerned about ever since this beautiful school was opened,” Holbert said. “It’s designed to have dynamic learning spaces not around security.”

In Kaye’s initial assessment, his understanding was that the access control project was already moving forward so he only recommended electronic control for the campus perimeter.

Kaye said he has never seen an electronic lock system installed on all doors of a school mostly due to cost and functionality. He expressed some concerns about the concept of doors being locked from one central location but Holbert said the system Rancho Santa Fe is considering is distributed, not centralized. With that concern addressed, Kaye said he couldn’t think of any downside outside of the cost and recommended that school safety be further reinforced through policy, procedures and training.

While the electronic locks will be “excellent”, Kaye said the district also needs to look at target hardening the whole door.

“Your classroom doors have glass panels on them. If you have glass on the door, no matter what kind of lock you put on there, your vulnerability is glass,” said Kaye, who made a recommendation for shatter-proof glass in his report.

Superintendent Donna Tripi said the district is getting a quote on replacing the glass, which runs about $15 per square foot.

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The front door at R. Roger Rowe School. Karen Billing

The district will also need to consider the front office doors—“Visitors are not visible through those big, beautiful wood doors,” Tripi said

.Possible solutions would include shatterproof glass, surveillance cameras or even the keeping the doors locked until visitors can be buzzed in. Neal said that option would be the most intrusive but it is something they could have a conversation about as a district.

At the Feb. 20 meeting, Tripi discussed some of the actions the district is pursuing based on other recommendations in Kaye’s report. The district is exploring additional surveillance cameras, new radios for communication, updating the school’s disaster storage shed and investigating an anonymous reporting system for middle school students, such as the hotline and website used by San Dieguito Union High School District.

Parking lot safety is another hazard the district has been working toward solving —a temporary radar sign was placed in the lot and the highest speed clocked during school hours was 42 miles per hour while children were present. Tripi said the district is exploring the potential to add speed bumps and has reached out to the fire district to see if it would be possible.


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