Safer Schools: Bethel district upgrades classroom doors, other security for new school year

GRAHAM, Wash. --  Two generations of the Gienger family growing up at Kapowsin Elementary in Graham.

Keri Gienger went to school at Kapowsin and now her children do, too.

But the threats at school are drastically different for Keri’s daughter compared to when Keri was in school.

We are supposed to be quiet and sit in the place where your teacher tells you to,” Keri’s daughter Lucy said.

That’s what Lucy would do in an active-shooter situation.

The 9-year-old has the lockdown drill memorized.

If they come in, you just can’t get out, you throw something out the window and get out there,” Lucy said.

It’s not something any child should have to think about, but they need to in a country where this year alone there has been at least 53 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

“It makes me scared if I stop to think about it, so often I try not to let my life be ruled by the fear but yet try to figure out what can I do to encourage, to help them be the sort of people who could care for everyone around them,” Keri said.

As Keri does her part, so is the Bethel School District.

Every classroom door at every one of the district’s 27 schools is getting a makeover this summer.

Before the upgrades, a teacher would have to physically come out of the classroom and use a key to lock a classroom door. Starting this fall, a teacher can lock a classroom from the inside without a key. The quick and simple way to lock a classroom could save precious minutes during a threat.

“It slows them down. It may not prevent it 100% but it slows them down,” Risk Manager Lauren Lassater said.

From doors to windows, the risk manager looks for ways to harden schools from an attack.

If there is a lockdown, the librarian can pull the blinds over windows.

They also installed peep holes on all 201 portable classrooms so students and teachers know who is on the other side.

Superintendent Tom Siegel says all the upgrades so far are expensive but worth it.

“There is an additional layer of security needed and we can’t do that for all 27 of our buildings until we have that bond passed,” Siegel said.

Siegel says if voters approve a bond in November, a portion of it would go toward creating a secondary vestibule or wall near the lobbies of each school.

“It’s 27 buildings -- we are talking millions of dollars,” Siegel said.

It would complement a security system they already have in place outside of their schools.

During school hours, every visitor has to show ID and get buzzed in through a video phone.

Keri says all the upgrades won’t make schools bullet-proof but it helps.

“I love that they are taking steps,” Keri said.

Risk consultant Jeff Slotnick of Setracon says more schools should be paying attention to what the Bethel School District is doing.

“You have a great schools like Bethel doing a phenomenal job and you have other schools that, frankly, I am amazed,” Slotnick said.

Slotnick says the disparity in physical security from one school to another is surprising.

“I’ve gone into their buildings and walked around for 20 minutes, half an hour, nobody said, 'Can I help you?'” Slotnick said.

Slotnick says we have state standards when it comes to things like fires so why not one for school shootings.

He wants to lobby the Legislature to create a basic set of regulatory requirements for all schools to follow.

“We are not going to stop everything but if we can stop a majority of things, it’s worth the investment,” Slotnick said.

Bethel schools are not waiting for state requirements to change. Instead they are doing them voluntarily so that this fall, students can feel a little bit safer.

“I know this school, they will try to do everything they can to make sure we are not hurt,” Lucy said.