Insight from the West Fargo PD: School access in controlled
Last week a television reporter trespassed within a West Fargo school building in violation of West Fargo City Ordinance 12-0705. The ordinance requires anyone entering the school to first register in the main office. The reporter’s stated purpose was to demonstrate a security vulnerability of a school building built in 1952. The ordinance reads:
12-0705. REGISTRATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. During such time as regularly scheduled classes are in session, no person shall enter or remain in any public elementary or secondary school building within the City of West Fargo without first registering in the main office of said school; provided, however, this section shall not apply to members of the School Board of the West Fargo School District, faculty and employees of the West Fargo School District, and students enrolled in that school.
Reasonable notification of the requirements of this section shall be conspicuously posted at the entrance to every public elementary and secondary school within the City of West Fargo, and no complaint for a violation of this section shall issue unless such notice is given. The violation is an infraction and may be punished by a maximum fine of $1,000.
The West Fargo School system has been proactive in assessing potential threats to students posed by manmade and natural disasters. An assessment must be practical and reasonable to be effective and efficient. The assessment must also be based on probability and potential for harm and not the raw emotion of a single event. There is a minor potential for flooding and a lesser chance for an earthquake to impact a school. The chance of a severe winter or summer storm would be deemed significant and is the most often seen threat facing the schools. Low on the scale by national average, less than a one in one million chance, is a student being injured in an act of school violence.
The school system has made modifications of existing buildings and done design changes to new construction to develop safer buildings. Policy and procedures were written to address the identified threats that have a potential to do harm to the school population. Staff and students receive training and participate in regularly scheduled exercises relating to disaster response. Students are safer in school now than they were just a few years ago.
Public attitude also impacts school design and operations. For a time schools were built with industrial like efficiencies and were often dual purposed as nuclear fall-out shelters. During a period of societal openness classrooms were designed in pods with shared spaces and no doors. Now schools are designed with restricted points of entry, surveillance systems and the ability to ‘lock down’. Staff and students carry identification cards. Visitors are required to register upon entering a building and may be challenged by staff as they move about. The question becomes how far society will ask the school system to go and at what cost. Can a community afford or do they want a school that has the level of security of an airport or a prison. The community should feel confident in the protections provided by the West Fargo School system to both students and staff.
Mike Reitan is the assistant police chief, WFPD