With $25 million in safety grants available, Minnesota schools look to improve security and surveillance across campuses to keep students safe.
The seemingly constant stream of mass shootings in recent years has greatly elevated the national conversation about school safety. While politicians in Washington and state houses across the U.S. endlessly discuss the most polarizing aspects of the debate, most school administrators are grappling with a simpler, more practical question: How can I keep my students safe?
Minnesota is one place that is putting its money where its mouth is. Earlier this year, the state legislature approved $25 million in school safety funding, and many educational institutions are now submitting proposals to get a piece of that pie.
Brenda Cassellius, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, has called for more money to be approved and stressed that that the funding allocated so far “will only begin to address a small fraction of our districts’ school safety.”
Nevertheless, these grants do represent a great opportunity for school administrators, who have been encouraged to submit their grant proposals as soon as possible given that there is something of a first-come, first-serve element to how the funds will be distributed. (The state started accepting applications on August 29 and will announce award recipients on September 28.)
Though $25 million for an entire state won’t change everything overnight, a grant of up to $500,000 for an individual school can make a big difference. Recipients will be authorized to use the money to “design, construct, furnish, and equip school facilities for improvements related to violence prevention and facility security,” says the Minnesota Department of Education.
There are many physical improvements that can be made, even on this budget — something officials across the country are discovering in the many other locations that have passed their own funding for better security, surveillance and technology.
Florida, which acted swiftly after 17 people were killed in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, passed a sweeping $400 million school safety bill. Its mission is broad, with $69 million going to mental health screening, $67 million going to train armed school personnel, and $98 million for “school-hardening” grants.
Earlier this year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pushed forward legislation for $100 million in school security grants in his state. Around 700 schools have already received related grants, accounting for around half that large sum.
Politicians in Idaho are looking to pass a similar initiative, called Keep Idaho Students Safe, that would represent an investment of some $21 million, while local-level programs (including $1 million of funding in Maryland’s Cecil County and $340,000 in Alabama’s Houston County) are also looking to address the issue.
With money increasingly available to districts all across the country, the question now becomes: How can they spend it wisely?
In Minnesota, department officials have met with experts at the Department of Public Safety to identify how schools can get the best bang for their buck. Among the priority areas identified for improvements are:
- Door entry systems
- Electronic locking systems
- Door alarms and sensors
- Communications systems
- Surveillance cameras
- Vehicle barriers
- Equipment to lock down sections of a building
Administrators have been working to determine what they would do if their school receives funding. “Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City Superintendent Nels Onstad said he’s hoping to get help securing the entrances of his district’s elementary and high school campuses,” reported the Star Tribune.
Vigilance at entry points to schools has proven to be critical. In higher education, for example, Virginia Tech crafted a plan to install up to 2,500 networked cameras in the years following the massacre on its campus that left 33 people dead. With no camera installed in the location where the gunman entered the hall where most of the carnage occurred, confusion was a major blind spot in the incident response on the day of that tragedy.
Cameras are thus a common-sense place to invest. University spokesman Mark Owczarski conceded in 2012, however, that just having cameras alone isn’t necessarily enough. “What hasn’t been in place is a policy and a directive to manage them more effectively,” he told the Washington Post.
Fortunately, innovative advances in technology in the decade since that 2007 school shooting have largely solved these issues. Managing a wide network of security cameras is now easier and more economical than ever before through powerful, user-friendly interfaces that make it increasingly practical to monitor events in real time and respond to automated notifications of irregular activity.
This means that modern surveillance safeguards are now in play for even public high schools that lack the resources of a major university — including any institutions in Minnesota that receive a chunk of the lifeline funding currently being allocated.
The reason that schools now need to put security front and center are heartbreaking. But this is the new reality. All administrators should be following the lead of the officials in Minnesota, Florida and Wisconsin that are working to do everything they can to stretch their budget and fortify their safety strategy to protect students.
Interested in learning more? Check out this customer story, where Dean Farar, CIO of the Yuma Union School District, shares why he chose Verkada’s hybrid cloud video surveillance system to keep his schools safe.