Feb 172018
 

Lusher Charter School. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

After a Lusher High School student with access to guns threatened to “shoot up the school” in December — and last week’s fatal shooting of 17 people at a South Florida high school — Lusher officials described some of the steps they are taking to improve security at their two campuses on Saturday morning.

The alleged verbal threat by a 14-year-old student in December never turned into violence, as the boy was arrested within a few days of making it. Police said he did have access to guns in his father’s house, however, and during the gap between the boy’s comments and his arrests, parents questioned whether Lusher had followed the best practices by allowing students to come to school the Friday while he remained at large. Police at the time said they had expected the family to turn the boy in that morning and that his father’s abrupt decision not to cooperate over the weekend instead was unprecedented, and school officials said they were making their decisions in conjunction with police.

Those questions have arisen again since 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, said Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger. Because she has fielded so many calls from concerned parents, she said she wanted to include a discussion of security issues during Saturday’s meeting of the school’s governing board.

“There is no question that what has happened in Florida strikes fear, and anger and sadness in the hearts of all of us,” Riedlinger said. She added, “Because of the incident we had right before Christmas, we’ve made some adjustments to what we do.”

Both the Freret and Willow campuses have security gates surrounding them, with buzzers on the doors and cameras so that front-office staff can screen who enters the property, said operations manager Frank Israel.

Both campuses also have full-time security now, which was already present at the middle and high school but is a new addition at the elementary school. The armed guard, who is contracted from a private security firm, has already drawn appreciation from parents for his watchfulness around the perimeter of the school, stopping people whom he doesn’t recognize, especially when children are outside for morning meetings or recess.

“He has actually approached people at the gate,” Rice said.

The security guard at the middle school has been with the school for years, and is very familiar with the students and their families, said principal Charlene Hebert. Meanwhile, the high school has three security officers who stay late into the evening, to ensure that extracurricular activities are protected as well, principal Steve Corbett said.

As an additional form of security, all students and staff at the upper school have ID badges that are to be worn at all times, and any visitor must receive a sticker from the office. That way, the school community has an immediate way of determining whether a person has a valid reason to be on the campus.

All the campuses have numerous safety and security drills each year, for fires, severe weather and lockdowns, the principals said. Some are scheduled ahead of time, some are unannounced, and occasionally the school is put on an unexpected lockdown by authorities because of an unrelated incident happening nearby in the community — in the past for a fire or a bank robbery, officials said.

After lockdown drills, the high school has assessments of each drill to refine the process, Corbett said.

Board member Paul Barron asked how the school community determines when an incident is a real threat versus a drill, but several other board members and school officials said they did not want to discuss specifics of the threat policy in front of the media. Generally, however, Riedlinger said that information flows extremely quickly during a crisis.

“In the world of cell phones, you know something’s happening,” Riedlinger said. “People report it to the office.”

The phones in the school can also access the intercom system, even if the office isn’t accessible, Corbett said.

Even before the threats made in December, Lusher officials were in the process of recruiting a security firm to help further secure the Freret building. Corbett first began seeking referrals for a local security consultant in late October, and held a consultation with a national firm called the Altaris Group on Dec. 4, he said.

Altaris is known for conducting elaborate security drills that more accurately simulate complex, real-world threats, Corbett said. Meanwhile, the local recommendation will result in collaboration in the coming weeks with St. Charles Parish to observe some of their practices, after which Corbett will make some more concrete recommendations regarding campus security. They are also exploring “active shooter” training for staff members, he said.

Riedlinger said that with 1,750 students on two campuses, the administration is constantly evaluating how to move them in and out of school most efficiently while remaining secure. When parents call, she has to tell them that ultimately, she cannot give an absolute guarantee of their safety — but she welcomes any input on how to make the school safer.

Saturday’s meeting also included a review of the school’s admissions testing policies, and of several policies related to student promotion. To read our live coverage, see below:

Live Blog Lusher Charter School board meeting – Feb. 17, 2018
 

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