When students leave school for the final time Tuesday, May 28, they may exit from a door that won’t be open when they return.
New security measures will be in place at RBHS next year, perhaps as early as the first day of school, John White, director of security, said. “North doors will be for most student activity and the east doors for visitors and for morning bus drop off,” White said. He noted the south will likely be closed off to students during the regular school day.
Additionally, the main student parking lot “may be moved to the north lot,” White said. For the staff, they “may have to park in a different lot.” He said he hopes construction work finishes before school starts. If not, construction would continue through the school year.
Jacob Sirna, who will assume the head principal position for RBHS in July, knows little about the parking plans to come. Even so, he expresses his flexibility with possible decisions.
“I’m just not involved in those decisions right now, but I’m going to come in,” Sirna said. “I’m going to hear what the plans are and talk about them, and if there need to be changes, I’m sure we’re going to entertain that and look at it, but I haven’t been officially briefed by the security people at [Columbia Public Schools (CPS)] in this matter yet.”
Although Sirna recognizes his lack of knowledge about RBHS security, he previously worked at Battle High School for five years and believes their security closely matches RBHS in regards to equipment, protocol, directors and systems. However, he said RBHS is much more free.
In regard to RBHS security finalizations, White said the school administrators continue to discuss parking lot options and said the plans for RBHS “are close to being finished.”
The idea to re-secure the school came five years ago when CPS’ insurance company grew concerned with the openness of some school’s campuses.
CPS addressed their issues by implementing the current buzzer system where secretaries release the lock on the entry doors when students request access.
A school board initiative last summer, as well as the Parkland shooting, has prompted the coming changes, said Dr. Jennifer Rukstad, who will leave the position of RBHS principal in July and become assistant superintendent for secondary education for CPS.
CPS’ insurance company’s research detailed that single entries were safer. Since RBHS and Hickman lack a single entry system, it made the two a top priority. Dr. Rukstad said the north entrance trumped the south entrance for student entry because of the need for direct access to the Columbia Area Career Center (CACC).
“I think there is a sense nationwide that it’s time for schools to take one more step,” she said.
“I think there is a sense nationwide that it’s time for schools to take one more step.”
Dr. Rukstad said the school will send out an email and put the information on the website to inform students and parents of the new procedures to take place; however, Dr. Rukstad said she believes construction won’t begin until after school starts.
Michelle Baumstark, the CPS Community Relations Director, said many other CPS schools will undergo construction to fit the new security feature.
“Both schools [Hickman and RBHS] are going to have secure, single points of entry. Battle, as all new schools are, was constructed that way initially. We’ll be working to retrofit our buildings that weren’t initially designed that way with the new security feature,” Baumstark said. “The Aslin Administration Building is currently under construction to incorporate the new secure design. Blue Ridge Elementary School and Oakland Middle School will have theirs installed this summer. [RBHS] and Hickman are currently in the design phase of the process.”
White affirmed that schools all over the country use the concept called “Secure Vestibule Entryway” to limit access to the building through a single point of entry. For students such as freshman Paige Farmer, the change provides a sense of protection.
“I think it could be beneficial,” Farmer said. “If we are only coming through one door, it’s gonna require higher security, which is safer for our students, but having to change where you park is also a major inconvenience for students, especially the ones who drive.”
The timeline for each project, Baumstark said, contains a number of factors, including “the scope of the project, timing, how long it will take [and] what other projects will be going on in the building at the same time.”
In terms of difficulties with the security process, she said each building “presents its own set of challenges” as original building designs differ throughout schools and vary in age.
Dr. Rukstad will not oversee the security updates directly as her new job puts her in charge of secondary schools, but she expressed her interest in involvement.
While junior Rebekah Selkoe expresses her support for the update, she foresees some problems with the plans.
She mentions the buzzer method, a part of the current security, as one of those troubles because the office lets in most people who claim to be a student without proof.
“A larger congregation of students at North would make navigation harder and may make students an easier target for school shooters. Students may become an easier target due to a large number of students always hanging around North,” Selkoe said. “The north lot is also too small for all the students to park there as RBHS is very overcrowded. Without the addition of more exits from the north lot, traffic would be even worse.”
Overall, RBHS gears up for better security next year as school shootings throughout the nation become unsurprising.
Although finalizations regarding RBHS security still need to be met, the updates are meant to benefit.
“Times have changed, and it’s important for our district to continue to look for best practices and ways to ensure that students and staff on our campuses remain safe,” Baumstark said.
“Times have changed, and it’s important for our district to continue to look for best practices and ways to ensure that students and staff on our campuses remain safe.”
By Karina Liu and Olivia Peters