Late last month, patrons visiting Grove High School were met with a change in how people access the front office during school hours.

In mid-February, school officials installed a camera system, requiring patrons to show their photo id's, and state their business before being buzzed into the building.

The move, while it came about after the latest school shooting in Florida, has been in the works for more than six months, according to Grove Superintendent Sandy Coaly.

Coaly said school officials had been discussing how to make the school's front entrance more secure.

Prior to the change, the high school's front doors led to an open hallway, with limited vision for those working in the office.

This was different than most campuses within the district, which either have a door to the school accessible only one the patron has entered the office, like in the Early Childhood Center, Lower and Upper Elementary, or a system which includes a foyer and buzzer release door, such as in the Middle School. 

Coaly said school officials discussed several options, including building a wall to create a space similar to the other campuses. The camera option was decided upon because it provides a simple way to secure the facility.

"Several parents have given feed back that it's about time, or that they were glad we've added another safety measure," Coaly said.

The back door, or student entrance of the high school, has been kept locked on a regular basis for several years. Coaly said a camera allows the person monitoring the door to buzz in students or others, once appropriate identification is presented.

Coaly believes the use of the VIPs (Volunteers in Police Service) and the district's two school resource officers, provide a layer of security for the district's students.

John Sherman and Tracy Bloss, with the Grove Police Department, share in the responsibilities as the district's two SRO's. 

Bloss has served in the role for almost 14 years, while Sherman began in August 2013. His position was created following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 

"Safety is always on our front burners," Coaly said. "We never back off. It's always on the forefront of our thoughts."

Coaly said she constantly asks parents, as well as teachers and students, to be aware of their surroundings.

"If you think you see something, check it out, don't blow it off," Coaly said she asks everyone within the district. 

This she said, includes checking on strange behaviors of both adults and students, to something which simply appears out of place. 

Coaly said having VIPs patrol the campuses each day has added a layer of protection because they constantly check doors to make sure they are secure, as well as watch for unusual patterns of behavior.

"I just want all of us to be safe," Coaly said. "VIPs are worth their weight in gold."

Adding resources

Currently the city of Grove and the school system split the costs for having two school resource officers, with the school providing at least $50,000 to the city.

Those two officers rotate among the buildings, on a random basis, each day.

Coaly said some parents have asked why the district does not place a school resource officer at each campus. She anticipates it would cost at least $150,000 to add three more officers - unless the city split the cost.

Grove Police Chief Mark Morris said the city's budget is not structured in such a way to absorb an additional $75,000 worth of funding for three more additional SROs.

He said it costs more than $100,000 to pay and equip Bloss and Sherman. This includes providing vehicles, uniforms, weapons and safety equipment. 

"Both [Sherman and Bloss] visit all of the campuses each day," Morris said. "Sherman is typically at the high school, but also goes to the other campuses."

At least six VIPs patrol the school campuses on any given week. At least one to two are on duty in the mornings, while another two are on duty during the afternoon."

"They provide an added layer of protection, but are eyes and ears only," Morris said. "They are a great resource to notify our officers about any issues going on. They patrol on a random pattern, so no one every know where they are going to be."

During the school day, both at the beginning and end of classes, as well as during the "critical or vulnerable" times, Morris said other officers on duty patrol around the various campuses.

Those times include before and after school, during recesses or during lunch periods, he said, or "anytime there is a large number of students massing together, or exposed to the outside."

Morris admits there are things he would like to do to "harden up" areas of concerns within the realm of school safety, but those changes would require additional funding.

Some parents have asked, in the wake of the Florida shooting, about the possibilities of adding metal detectors at the middle and high schools.

Morris said he is in favor of anything that increases the safety of students.

"I think it's more than just physical safety," Morris said. "I think if they feel safe, it creates a good learning environment."

But again, Morris said, the addition of the detectors - and the staff to run them - would require additional funding sources. 

Detectors would also impact the school day, he said, because they would slow down the the ability to get students into and out of buildings.

Training the teachers

In the last few weeks, Morris, Sherman and Bloss have conducted numerous ALICE training (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate) training for Grove Public School teachers, businesses and community leaders.

The training encourages teachers and students to be proactive when it comes to their safety following three steps: run, hide or fight.

Students and teachers are encouraged to run and escape the situation if at all possible, hide, blocking doors with anything available, or fight - throwing anything available at the intruder.  

"Throw anything available, a stapler, a coffee mug, a fire extinguisher," Morris said. "We tell people to fight. Be pissed off. Realize you are fighting for your life.

"Studies show if you are doing something, run, hide or fight, you exponentially increase your rates of survivability."

Morris said many people are trained to ask for permission before they act. In the event of an emergency situation, permission is not needed.

"There's a fine balance but a lot of times, if you can escape through a window, evacuate," Morris said. "You don't need permission to do that.

"If you hear gun shots down the hallway, break the window. If you are in the hallway, evacuate. Get to safety."

Morris said, like Coaly, he thinks about school safety constantly. 

"It's a constant source of our communication," Morris said. "We want students to avoid being petrified going to school, and we want them to have a safe learning environment.

"We need to make sure people are aware of their surroundings and report things of concern.

"We would rather have people talk about their concerns, then say 'I was concerned but didn't say anything' after an incident." 

Morris recommends parents talk to their students, in an age appropriate way, about safety issues. 

"I know this is something we think about every single day," Morris said. "We may almost be overthinking things, but we take every single threat to the tenth degree."

In at least one case, within the last year, Morris said school resource officers and school officials worked with the parents of a student, when they became aware of some potential issues.

Officials worked with the parent to get the student help, before anything could be acted upon.

"Once we are aware of something, the school administration and SROs can watch the situation," Morris said. 

In the event of an incident at the school, Morris said his officers will respond in a consistent manner.

"Our policy, god forbid, in the event of an active shooter is that our officers, be it one or more, no matter how many, will immediately go inside and address the situation and stop the threat," Morris said.