Conway Public Schools, in an effort to provide greater security for students and faculty, implemented a stricter front door policy this school year that restricts who can enter elementary and middle school buildings.
Greg Murry, superintendent of Conway Public Schools, said the changes were made as a "preemptive measure" and were not the result of threats to school safety.
"Our highest priority is the safety of our students," Murry said. "We currently have a safe school district."
The new front door lock system was installed in the spring of this year with full implementation this fall at the nine elementary (K-4) and four middle schools (5-7) in Conway:
• Elementary: Carolyn Lewis, Ellen Smith, Florence Mattison, Ida Burns, Jim Stone, Julia Lee Moore, Marguerite Vann, Theodore Jones and Woodrow Cummins
• Middle: Bob Courtway, Carl Stuart, Ruth Doyle and Simon
Conway’s elementary and middle schools make up a sizable percentage of the district’s student population. A total of 9,733 students were enrolled districtwide in 2013-14.
About 4,038 students were enrolled in Conway elementary schools and 2,209 students in Conway middle schools during the 2013-14 school year, according to district data.
As part of the new system, visitors must ring a doorbell located beside the main outside doors of the school building. They must then identify themselves to office staff via an intercom and video surveillance system and provide photo I.D. upon request.
Doors lock at 8:20 a.m. each weekday, a policy that began Aug. 18, the first day of 2014-15 classes.
Murry said doors lock no later than 8:30 a.m. After that point, visitors must be "buzzed in" during school hours.
Lock down buttons on each administrative assistant’s desk will allow doors to be locked at the discretion of an administrator.
Murry said the lock down procedure and additional security provides "another barrier between our kids" and potential threats to safety.
Conway’s elementary and middle schools have sent newsletters out to parents of children enrolled at their schools and have had information available during back-to-school open houses.
Murry said reactions to the new policy have been overwhelmingly positive, though he said he has received a few concerns regarding visitors.
"Once you explain the policy to a parent or community member, most people can reasonably understand," he said.
Dayna Coleman, Woodrow Cummins Elementary School principal, said the process of informing parents of children at the school began this school year with newsletters and instructions on how to use the new system.
She called the new system a method for ensuring that only the good intentioned enter the school.
"It gives us more control of who is coming and going and forces people to show their ID at the front office," she said.
Instead of walking into the school office upon arrival, visitors must have a school administrator respond to whether they can enter the building.
Conway Junior High School and Conway High School are not part of the new policy. Murry said the district has no plans in the near future to implement front door locks at either school.
"There are so many doors [on the junior high and high school]," Murry said. "It would be virtually impossible to lock everyone down."
The policy, Murry said, is an effort to show that Conway Public Schools is always trying to learn what can be done better in the district to avoid harm to those working and learning at the schools.
In addition to the new front door policy, existing locks on other building access points will remain in place at the elementary and middle schools.
Sam Nelson, Florence Mattison Elementary principal, said most parents and visitors of the school understand the need and necessity of the new policy.
"It’s one of those things we put in for the safety," he said. "We needed some safeguards."
Previously, the requirement for visitors on school property was for them to check in with the office. Nelson calls locking the front door of Florence Mattison and other Conway schools a "an added layer of security."
"It’s very important that we have some means of checking the identity of people," Nelson said.
The front door policy, prohibiting school visitors from entering without a distinct reason, offers an additional barrier for checking a person’s identity before a potentially dire situation could occur.
(Staff writer Brandon Riddle can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)