West improves school safety and security

Elissa Treu, Reporter

For the past 20 years, school safety regarding gun violence has been a concern of administrators across the country. According to Julie Bosman of The New York Times, eight gun-related crimes in schools have occurred from January to May of 2019.  Bellevue West administration is improving the school’s safety in order to prevent such an incident. 

If we’d end up with a shooter in the building, we just want to raise the level of safety for students as much as possible,” principal Kevin Rohlfs said. 

Improvements to classrooms include glass panels being replaced by durable and opaque materials, which was a project started last summer by the custodial staff. 

“We’ve started with our main hallways upstairs where we’ve got those large plates of glass. We’ve replaced all those with wood, and we’re going to continue to do that next summer and kind of try to finish everything off,” Rohlfs said.

The locked door policy new to the school this year was originally implemented to emphasize the importance of getting to class on time, but has its proactive benefits, according to Rohlfs.

“If a teacher closes and locks the door, now if anything happens, they don’t have to get up and close the door,” Rohlfs said.

The Nebraska Department of Education assesses West every year by their Safety and Security Standards.

We were collecting data to help us be informed of what we could do to provide more support to the school,” State School Security Director Jolene Palmer said.

The data collected in last year’s assessment remains confidential.

“If I let that out of the bag, I would be putting Bellevue West in jeopardy and compromising their safety and security,” Palmer said.

Since 2016, the Gallup Student Poll was conducted amongst students in order to report how students feel about their futures, social environment, coursework, and personal safety at school. Based off a 1-5 scale, 1 meaning “strongly disagrees” and 5 meaning “strongly agrees,” the average answer to the statement “I feel safe at school” had a score of 3.27, which is a drop of .54 points from the 2016-2017 school year.

Bellevue Public Schools administration is emphasizing the importance of reporting what students hear to the office. Students who report potentially dangerous incidents remain anonymous. Students can also anonymously report incidents to Sarpy County’s web-based platform TIPS.

“Our biggest and best security procedure we have in the building is our students,” Rohlfs said. “We continue to emphasize that if you see or hear something, you’ve got to let somebody know if it makes you uncomfortable.”

The purpose of advisory was to provide a teacher-mentor for each student at the school, counselor Melissa Minahan said in a 2017 Thunderbeat interview. This assists in making students more comfortable reporting anything that raises a red flag. Once a threat is determined to be liable, that threat is then reported to law enforcement.

“Once it comes to us, if it’s any kind of threat, we’re going to involve the police,” Rohlfs said. “We’re going to go and get the student and have a conversation with them, and then the police will have a conversation with them as well. Then the decision that is made is, ‘Is this a real threat, or was this something the student said just being dumb?’”

The future plans of security improvement, such as adding more staff and equipment to the building, is still being decided by administration.

“There’s always talk about security guards and whether we should have more people in the building and whether we should have somebody out in the parking lot. If we’re watching out there, then an intruder will not be able to get into the building,” Rohlfs said.