Itawamba elementary campuses up security

Itawamba Attendance Center Assistant Principal Martin Davis demonstrates the use of the school's new front door security camera/intercom. Visitors will now have to be buzzed into a front lobby area of the school since each of the 10 buildings will be locked with keycard entry devices during school hours. A similar security system has also been installed at Mantachie Elementary School in an effort to provide more security for teachers and students. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Itawamba Attendance Center Assistant Principal Martin Davis demonstrates the use of the school’s new front door security camera/intercom. Visitors will now have to be buzzed into a front lobby area of the school since each of the 10 buildings will be locked with keycard entry devices during school hours. A similar security system has also been installed at Mantachie Elementary School in an effort to provide more security for teachers and students. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Both Itawamba Attendance Center and Mantachie Elementary schools are bolstering security this year.

This year, both schools will feature similar, keycard-operated security systems, which will block entrance to school buildings from the general public. Locks are being placed on 10 buildings at Itawamba Attendance Center and six buildings at Mantachie.

Security Alarms of Tupelo wrapped up the installation of IAC’s system last week; Mantachie Elementary School’s system should be installed within the next couple of weeks.

The purchase of both systems was funded with money raised specifically for that purpose.

Locked for learning

Although the systems at both schools are technically the same, the way security is handled differs at each school. That said, the overall goal is the same: Provide more safety for teachers and children by keeping foot traffic out of the hallways.

Visitors at either school will now be funneled through each school’s front office, both of which have been restructured for this purpose. If a parent needs to meet with a teacher or pick up a child, it’s all done through the front of the school, rather than in the classrooms. According to school administrators, the goal isn’t to prevent parents from easily seeing or picking up their children; it’s just to ensure that there aren’t a lot of people wandering the hallways without the front office knowing about it.

“If they need to have access to their children or to see their child at any point during the day, they certainly can,” Itawamba Attendance Center Principal Pat Stone said, a statement that is reflected at Mantachie Elementary School as well.

It’s school staff that will likely feel the brunt of the changes. At both schools, teachers will be will be issued security cards granting them access to whichever buildings they use regularly, but this differs at each school. At IAC, a teacher will have access to his or her classroom hallway and other frequently visited buildings, but not others. For example, a seventh grade teacher would have access to the seventh grade hallway or the school gymnasium, but not the third grade hallway. Meanwhile, faculty who need a bit more far-reaching access — say the principal or custodial staff — will be given it. Each card can be programmed with any number of access points.

In Mantachie, teachers will be given access to all buildings.

The biggest change for parents, meanwhile, is the way access will be granted to the schools as a whole. In Mantachie, parents will enter through the front building as they always have, but will now be greeted in a small lobby area rather than entering the administration office proper. The school’s secretary will work with parents in this area and direct them as needed.

At IAC, visitors won’t be able to walk through the front door without first being buzzed through. A new security camera/intercom has been installed just outside the school’s front door. Visitors will need to buzz to be let inside the new front lobby area, where the school secretary will take care of them.

Administrators agree that the changes to the visitation process may seem strict at first, but it’s really better all-around.

“We just want to make sure the campus is secure during school hours,” explained IAC Assistant Principal Martin Davis. “Hopefully, it will cut down on the distractions in the hallways and classrooms … We want teachers teaching and students learning.”

IAC administrators previously said they’ve had problems with parents entering the school’s hallways and classrooms without first checking in at the front office.

 Safe, not sorry

Some of these changes may seem drastic, but administrators at both schools call them “necessary.” According to principals at both schools, last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has renewed the focus on security. The thinking is, if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere, including Itawamba County. Better safe than sorry.

“[Sandy Hook] really made us realize that just because we’re rural, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen to us,” explained Jamie Dill, principal of Mantachie Elementary School.

Dill said he expects most parents will be understanding of the changes, especially if they know the reasons behind them.

“I think it’ll go over well,” he said, adding that most of their visitors already check in at the front office before entering the campus. “Our parents want what’s best for our kids, and they want them safe at all times. I think it’ll be taken well.”

IAC’s principal, meanwhile, said she expects there to be a bit of a transition period for both parents and teachers.

“We’re going to be inconvenienced somewhat … all of us,” Stone said. “But none of this is being done to inconvenience our parents. It’s only to keep our children safe.”

That, she said, seems to be a fair trade-off.

adam.armour@journalinc.com

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 11 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

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