State safety grants help Catholic schools introduce security measures

Security film on glass at main entrances is among the safety upgrades

GREEN BAY — On the morning of Sept. 5, a legitimate threat was made against Notre Dame Academy. The threat, made by a student from a different school, needed to be vetted to ensure that Notre Dame students, faculty and staff were safe. Officers from the Green Bay Police Department were inside the building within 90 seconds of being called. The police chief arrived in two minutes.

“It was an impressive response,” said Greg Masarik, associate principal. “What we had been talking about for years in our training with (the police department) had actually come to fruition.”

Andrew Pekarek, communications and marketing specialist at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, demonstrates how a driver’s license is scanned into the school’s LobbyGuard system. All guests are required to use the system before entering the school. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

In 2018, safety measures, at Notre Dame and other schools that applied, received a boost through the Wisconsin Department of Justice School Safety Initiative Grant. One of the provisions of the grant was putting 3M safety and security film on glass at main entrances.

“It’s a shatter resistant thing. It’s not bulletproof, but what it does, if a gunshot goes through, you get a spider crack and it holds it together,” explained Masarik. “You are trying to capture seconds of extra time where you can put people in a safe position.”

The Wisconsin Department of Justice opened up more grant money because not every school took advantage of it. When Notre Dame received additional funds, security film was applied to all exterior doors, and an internal camera system and automatic door closing system were installed.

Doors surrounding the atrium, the main entrance point, can be shut and locked with a push of a button.

“We can actually lock someone into this location and contain them so we can get help,” said Masarik.

The most visible change at Notre Dame is the Visitor Management System (VMS) which was installed in January 2019. The LobbyGuard system requires visitors to have their photo taken and their driver’s license scanned. A photo ID badge in the form of a sticker is created and must be worn by the visitor. The visitor also provides the name of the faculty or staff member they wish to see. An email is automatically sent to that person. The ID scan does a background check on the individual.

“The VMS runs it against the sex offender list,” said Masarik. “If you have somebody who comes up flagged, sorry, you can’t come in. They can engage us as administrators to deal with those situations.”

Everyone in the building is required to have a visible photo ID. Students, faculty and staff display their identification on lanyards. Accommodations have been made for regular visitors to the school, including those who attend morning Mass, for example.

“Mass people would have to go through the VMS because we operate that from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We have regulars who come four or five times a week,” said Masarik. “We took their pictures and gave them chapel passes. On the back, there is a little sticker. One time they run through with their license and we put a sticker on it. They can then just scan in and scan out.”

While safety is the priority of the student IDs, convenience is another benefit. The IDs are used for lunch money accounts and to check out books. The student government uses the IDs for dances. No paper tickets are printed. When they arrive at the event, their ID is scanned.

“I see us working towards developing things with attendance related to the ID,” said Masarik. “Attendance is safety in our minds.”

Notre Dame has also added an evening atrium receptionist from 3:30 to 6 p.m. to help monitor the main doors that are unlocked to provide for after-school activities and events.

The grant, which was approximately $62,000 for Notre Dame, provi

Cathy Kirschling, receptionist at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, describes how visitors’ names are entered into her computer after signing into the school’s Visitor Management System (VMS). The VMS requires guests to sign in with a valid driver’s license for additional security. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

ded some physical upgrades, but training is also a part of ongoing safety measures. The second part of the grant called for 10% of teachers and counselors to complete adolescent mental health training. Notre Dame will host the two-day training in 2020 and have 10 staff members participate.

Training also continues through scenario-based safety drills in cooperation with the police department. A scenario is created and sent out.

“What are you going to do in that moment to keep yourself safe? We empower the teachers and the kids to take safety into their own hands,” said Masarik. “Use their senses, their sight, their ears to respond and look. We will send them a scenario. It will take a one- to two-minute discussion and then they submit electronically what they would do in their location. We have the police reviewing (the responses) with maps.”

Moving forward, plans are in place to move the main office at Notre Dame Academy near the atrium and reconfigure the entrance, including enclosing the vestibule in glass.

GRACE GRANT

The Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) school system also received $153,990 in a Wisconsin Department of Justice School Safety Grant. Safety and security film and new locks for classroom doors, provisions of the grant, were first addressed at the nine GRACE schools, said Lisa Niemuth, director of development.

Other safety-related upgrades varied at the schools. Some measures were already completed at some of the schools through the work of their site advisory councils. For example, Holy Cross School, Bay Settlement, had already applied security film to its large windows, so funds were designated for safety upgrades elsewhere in the school.

“Quite a few of them used it for communications systems —a new phone or PA system. A couple also did secured entrances, the visitor entrance to the school. They updated the entrances with security cameras and locks,” said Niemuth.

Collaboration was an important part of the safety grant process, she added.

“We brought together the principal team and they assessed it with their parish partners to see what the priority was to be done there,” she said. “Everything was coordinated. We had to submit estimates as part of the grant.”

The GRACE St. Michael Safety Team includes Niemuth; Kim Desotell, GRACE president; Jaime Hintz, director of human resources; Olgamar Amor, principal at St. Thomas More School, Green Bay; Steve Gromala, principal at Holy Family School, Green Bay; and Jeff Young, principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School, De Pere. This group revised the log system for school drills.

“We now have a uniform log that each principal can fill out,” said Niemuth. “We make sure we are incompliance with the (Department of Justice) Office of School Safety.

“Years ago, all you had was your fire drill,” she added. “Now the children practice evacuation drills and intruder drills. All that is logged through the Wisconsin Department of School Safety.”

The grant also provided funds for GRACE-wide trauma training. The final project utilizing grant money — the public address system at St. John the Baptist School in Howard — was recently completed.

“There are not too many opportunities out there for safety funds, so it was a great advantage,” said Niemuth. “The things we were able to do with the grant enhanced the safety of our students, staff and visitors, to bring it up to what society dictates in safety standards.”