Union Superintendent Mike Ross

The Union Area School District is bulking up its security.

Imminent changes involve the ways visitors to both of the district's buildings enter and exit; the handling of arrivals and departures at the elementary school; and periodic use of metal detectors — in this case, wands.

Superintendent Mike Ross unveiled the moves Wednesday night at a meeting with about 100 parents.

Ross said the district has been revamping its security plans and budgeting for increased security measures. The tragedy in Parkland, Florida, he said, happened to coincide with the district's plans and "caused us to speed up our timeline."

Within the next few weeks, the changes at the elementary school will take effect, and there will be a pick-up and drop-off system, Ross said.

"No parent enters the building at any time," he said, adding that students will be dropped off at school with the School Resource Officer escorting them into the building, and at pick-up time, a parent can call inside, or their ID information will be used, with the resource officer escorting the student from the building to the parent's car. Each student will be escorted individually.

Currently, there are two armed security guards in each building and a school resource officer.

The visitor check-in procedure begins immediately.

"There will be minimal visitation in the schools," Ross said, referring to the new protocol as a fishbowl system. There are double locked doors in each school. Visitors may proceed through the first door but will not be able to go any further.

"Any business that doesn't require you to enter the school will be conducted in the vestibule," he explained.

That will all but eliminate the current buzz-in system. If entrance is ncessary, it will be done under the watch of the armed guard, Ross continued.

There are procedures for when certain situations occur, such as a student forgetting a lunch, he acknowledged.

"The parent parks in the visitors lot, the security guard takes the lunch at the door. Or if a student has an appointment, we bring the child to you, and sign in or out in the vestibule. The protocol is much the same; it's just where it takes place."

Thirdly, there will be random intermittent search systems of students using a wand, Ross said.

"It's three major changes moving forward. To arrive at these decisions, we had some security threat assessments conducted."

There have also been frequent consultations with the Union Township Police Department, and the administrative team will have extensive training in security areas, he said.

A security council consisting of administrators, a few teachers, security personnel and two township police officers will meet regularly and its members will undergo extra security training including the ALICE system. ALICE represents Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate and, "We have been implementing the ALICE philosophy for the past two years."

After the two-day ALICE training is completed, the council will meet to discuss any security concerns or additional measures needed, Ross said.

He noted that he realizes that people recognize these as significant changes but "the current climate warrants the intervention."

An email will be sent out to all parents in the district, detailing information on the new measures and more specifics, Ross said.

Chaz Macri, the parent of a 5-year-old pre-K student, said he is 100 percent on board with what Ross has proposed and spoke several times during the meeting.

"I trust — and we need the whole community to trust — school officials," said Macri, who is a Union graduate and a coach there. "Without it, we become weak."

All the measures will take an adjustment but are worth it, he added.

"I can't go into the school anymore but that's OK. I'll wait for an officer to bring out my son."

Carletta Fuleno, the mother of a son who is a sophomore, spoke to The News yesterday.

Fuleno said her biggest concern was whether a plan is in place should an active shooting situation occur, and said she learned quickly that the answer is yes.

She noted she is absolutely in agreement with all three measures and realizes, too, that there will be some kinks to work out.

"Nothing will be flawless at first," Fuleno said. "I do have every confidence in the school leadership and decisions, and they are ramping up security as fast as they can. We have to follow the rules that are in place and that's life."

lpezzuto@ncnewsonline.com

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