Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau School District is proposing an audit to improve safety and security for students and staff at all its schools, a move that comes in the wake of a nationwide spike in mass shootings – including some in school settings.

The district team plans to engage a security firm or consultant to make appropriate recommendations, according to a superintendent’s memo. Since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado and including the latest at Robb Elementary School in Texas, there have been multiple such incidents. According to an NPR report, the U.S. has experienced 27 school shootings with injuries or deaths so far this year. Education Week, which tracks school shootings, shows 119 such incidents from 2018 to today. Those numbers include only incidents that happen on K-12 school property or on a school bus and that happen when school is in session, or during a school-sponsored event. The numbers do not include incidents in which only a school resource or police officer fired a weapon.

In Wausau, the district will invite several candidates to respond to an official request for information that asks each to provide a description of their qualifications, an action plan and an estimated cost to complete a defined scope of work. The scope includes performing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis, also known as a SWOT, of safety and security of the district. In addition, the district will call for a review of buildings, evaluation of the current emergency planning process, an assessment of existing security technology in schools as well as a look at police or security staffing and response capabilities, among others.

“With everything going on, frankly it keeps going on, in this day and age, there are firms out there who wake up every day – eat, sleep, breathe this stuff and those are the kinds of things we want to tap into,” board member Pat McKee said on Monday.

One proposal is to deploy School Resource Officers, or SROs, at elementary schools. At present the district has one SRO each at the two middle and the two high schools. The SROs, who are active police officers, act as a liaison between law enforcement and school officials.

Nationwide, deploying SROs in school has been a sensitive issue with strong opinions on both sides of the debate. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has recommended guidelines for best practices on the use of SROs in schools in the state.

While the Education/Operations Committee did not take a formal vote on the request, members appeared to support the proposal. The Wausau School Board is expected to endorse the plan during its regular meeting on July 11.

During a presentation on a preliminary design of facility improvements at Stettin and Riverview elementary schools, Sharon Gould, program manager from consulting firm Nexus Solutions, said the new design for all schools will have a more secure entrance. Gould also proposed locking back doors of offices so that an intruder who sneaks into an office will not be able to reach classrooms. That means a potential intruder will either be contained in the front desk area for elementary schools or office area of the secondary schools, Gould added.

There will be another presentation after the design is 95% complete.

The new secure entrances will make the schools “more secure and more welcoming,” Superintendent Keith Hilts said.