MERIDEN — High-tech driver’s license scanners for visitors and fewer ways that students can enter the buildings are among the security measures taken in Meriden schools since the Florida school shooting and recent arrests involving adults on city school grounds.
“We don’t wait for a tragedy to happen in another part of the country to determine our philosophy moving forward, but when something does happen we definitely want to talk about ways to improve our current systems,” School Superintendent Mark Benigni said.
Three adults, two with weapons, were arrested on school grounds in February. After the last incident, in which a 22-year-old is accused of entering Maloney High School at the beginning of the day posing as a student, Benigni said the decision was made to limit ways students and visitors can enter the school. Students can now only access the building through three doors, all which are monitored by school staff. During school hours, visitors can only use the main entrance.
The city’s high schools and middle schools have also implemented more thorough visitor vetting, including a “Raptor” driver’s license scanner. Visitors need to show state-issued identification to a camera before entering the building. Visitors must hand their identification over to staff to be scanned. The Raptor scanner does a background check on individuals and among other things will notify school staff if the person is a sex offender.
Upon entry, the visitor is issued a printed visitor ID with a photo to wear while in the school.
“A traditional badge could easily be transferable, there’s no photo identification, so with the photo identification visitor badge, just at a glance every (staff) member in the building knows, and all students know that’s a person who went through the right procedure,” Maloney Principal Jennifer Straub said.
The schools are also installing shatter-proof film on windows, which can slow down a potential intruder trying to shoot through a window to enter the building.
The Meriden Police Department has been given access to security cameras, which officers can view from cruiser computers or cellphones to help them focus on specific areas of the school to pinpoint threats. Sharing the video feed with police could help shorten response time in case of an emergency, Benigni said. Police are also being given keyless access to schools so they will not have to buzz in for entry.
“If you are rushing to the school because there is someone who doesn’t belong on school grounds they will know where that person is and go right to that part of the building,” Benigni said. “Seconds matter, minutes matter. We’re talking about expediting the process.”
The school continues to monitor activity on Google Suite, which Benigni said has already averted “numerous problems.” The system alerts school officials if students write something online about harming themselves or others so the student can get immediate intervention.
The Board of Education recently approved spending about $6,500 to launch an anonymous tip line — “Speak Up MPS Cares” — to allow students to call, text or email tips. The line will be monitored 24/7 by a consulting firm and school officials will be alerted immediately of any potential threats.
While technology can help secure schools, Benigni emphasized that understanding students and cultivating a culture of openness and trust is the best investment to avoid a potential tragedy.
“For us, it’s more about knowing our students and making sure that our students and staff know to speak up and that really how you prevent many of these incidents from occurring,” Benigni said.