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Schools look to adapt to new safety requirements
MONROE - Governor Scott Walker recently approved legislation requiring updated security practices in Wisconsin schools and providing grant funds to districts for improving school safety.

A provision written by 51st Assembly Rep. Todd Novak was included, establishing a $100 million grant fund through the Office of School Safety in the Wisconsin Department of Justice. According to a release by his office, the funds are intended to help districts which may not have the capacity within current budgets to address safety concerns.

Monroe District Administrator Rick Waski said the average of $115 per student within the state, which translates to roughly $30,000 for the district, may not be adequate for "substantial changes" but noted the district already has plans in place regardless of whether the funding will be granted.

"Ultimately, we are looking at doing some things previous to the bill," Waski said.

Three main updates include a closed-circuit video/audio system to greet visitors at school doors, door locks with a mechanism to bar entry with the push of a button inside the building and an alarm system to sound if any door is opened internally.

Waski said the plans were also fairly "rigid" and the requirements, which according to a document by the governor's office, include consultation with local law enforcement and conducting "on-site assessments of all pupil-occupied areas ... among several other requirements."

Teachers will also become mandatory reporters of threats of school violence. Educators and counselors have been required to directly call authorities for suspected child abuse and will now have to do the same if any pupils mention enacting violence against the school. Waski said during the Monroe school board meeting Monday that teachers who don't report school violence and threats to law enforcement will be subject to legal consequences.

One of the requirements includes the provision of blueprints of each building and facility within the district by July 1, according to a policy outline released by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards in March. Waski said that would be an additional cost to the district and the WASB indicated the state may require an electronic floor plan of each school building.

Juda Superintendent and Principal Traci Davis said her district was lucky to have completed renovations in the fall to make the school building safer, which means the district has updated blueprints on file already. While Davis said the district will apply for grant funding, the plans for security upgrades are still uncertain.

"We're learning more each day," Davis said. "School safety has been at the forefront."

Davis noted the district is "constantly reviewing" its safety handbook to improve. A recently passed referendum allowed for a more secure entrance with a controlled area before visitors are granted access to the full building. Davis said security cameras have been added to the entrances as well and that the office has two exits to make it safer.

While the district has only seen a portion of the grant application, she said it intends to apply for funds and that the "process should be manageable." A more challenging component for Juda is the requirement to consult with local authorities because the town does not have local officers. Instead it uses the aid of the Green County Sheriff's Office, which Davis said she would need to contact to configure future plans.

Waski said Monday that under the new requirements, local law enforcement will be required to conduct a safety analysis of each school building and any area that occupies students including Monroe athletic facilities, like Twining Park, Recreation Park and the soccer fields at Honey Creek Park.

School safety plans will have to be updated and approved on an annual basis instead of every three years like before. Each school district's safety plan must include procedures for emergency prevention, mitigation, preparedness and recovery, and will need to have guidelines developed for school violence and attacks, threats of violence and attacks, bomb threats, fires as well as intruders and weather-related emergencies.

Davis said the district had conducted joint school shooter drills in the fall of 2016 and would likely look to implement a similar drill in the near future. Each time the district has a school violence drill, they must report it to the state DOJ.

"There's a lot of enforcement required that we want to get started as soon as possible," Waski said. "These are things we should be doing anyway."

- Mark Nesbitt contributed reporting to this story.