New security features added to the front entrance of OVUHS
BRANDON — Major changes are planned for the front entrance at Otter Valley Union High School in light of the recent school shooting threat in Fair Haven and the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The plan comes just days after Gov. Phil Scott issued a memo to legislators proposing several gun restrictions and school safety measures, including school security reviews and grant funding for security improvements.
In a letter to parents on Feb. 22, OV Principal Jim Avery wrote that he and the rest of the OV community are still shaken by the school shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people were killed, as well as the averted school shooting plan locally that came to light on Feb. 15. Jack Sawyer, 18, of Poultney was arrested and charged after police uncovered an elaborate plot to commit a mass shooting at Fair Haven Union High School.
“We as a school and community continue to struggle with the fear and anxiety these events have created when we see one of our most sacred environments violated so tragically,” Avery wrote.
In the letter, Avery also announced that a video screening security system would be installed at the entrance of the school.
“The events of last week have made me realize that not only do we need to foster and build the kinds of relationships with students that allows them to share with us when they have a concern, but that we also must put in place practices that will improve the safety of our children.”
For many years, OV has locked all perimeter doors during the school day, except the front door. The new system will require school visitors to request entry, be seen on a video monitor, and then be buzzed in.
In addition, School Resource Officer Ann Bandy will be posted in the front office area to regularly monitor the entrance.
“This will be a change to our existing way of life,” Avery wrote, “but sadly one that I believe is necessary.”
In an interview Monday, Avery said he, Rutland Northeast Superintendent Jeanne Collins, and the school’s facilities manager will meet with an architectural firm on Friday about the design for the new front entrance.
Gov. Scott has proposed that $5 million in state funds be made available for School Security Grants. The grants would be administered by the Department of Public Safety and used to pay for security upgrades including hiring school resource officers, video monitoring, threat assessment and security software, prevention planning and risk reduction.
Avery said the administration and staff at OV have diligently worked to achieve a positive school environment where students can be comfortable sharing their concerns about themselves as well as other students.
“Throughout my 24 years as an administer at Otter Valley I have always felt that one of the school’s most powerful attributes is the faculty and staff’s ability to develop important, supportive relationships with our students,” he wrote in the letter. “I am extremely proud of the school environment that we have, and continue to believe that positive caring relationships are the foundation for our work with students.”
On Monday, Avery reiterated that position, saying relationships are key. “It’s ‘The Big R,’” he said. “It’s the one component of our philosophy that everything else is based on.
The same motto that Gov. Scott wrote about in his Feb. 22 memo is one that OV continues to embrace as well: If you see something, say something.
“That’s something that’s been important for us forever,” he said, “and I think of all the situations that have come up where kids have had somebody in the building to talk to. And now, we have to do more.”
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