By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
In response to growing violence at schools across the nation, Bowling Green City Schools had each classroom equipped with a “Boot” last year.
The “Boot” was created by Rob Couturier, of Michigan, after his daughter was the victim of a violent attack. The “Boot,” is a rectangular-shaped plate of quarter-inch thick industrial steel. Secured by two steel pegs, the plate can withstand 16,000 pounds of pressure and keep doors closed to intruders.
The safety mechanism has been installed in more than 100 public schools and 18 private schools in the region.
Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci rests a little easier knowing every classroom in the district has a mechanism to keep an intruder out and keep the students safe inside.
However, Scruci also realizes nothing is completely safe.
“Anytime we’re talking about student safety, there is always more you can do,” Scruci said Thursday, the day after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed at 17.
“We want to make sure kids are safe. But we can’t with 100 percent certainty,” he said. “We don’t have the resources to make them as safe as possible.”
But in the case of the Parkland shooter, who reportedly went door to door to classrooms, the “Boot” would keep him from entering rooms. “That’s the beauty of the ‘Boot.’ He’s not getting in there,” Scruci said.
In addition to the “Boot” on classroom doors, the Bowling Green school district also relies on students and staff to point out troubled students, hold training drills at the school, and work with local police on responding to threats.
By law, every school must hold a lockdown drill at least once a year.
“We just had a meeting and discussed that we need to do it more often,” Scruci said. “We don’t ever want to think this is a new normal, but we want people to be prepared.”
Of course, the school district can’t prepare for every possibility, he said. The accused shooter in the Florida school pulled a fire alarm first, reportedly to have easier access to students leaving their classrooms.
“Regardless of how many times we practice, you don’t know what to prepare for,” Scruci said. “We could prepare for 100 scenarios, and there would still be another 100 other scenarios we didn’t think of.”
The school staff is also trained in ALICE, which urges people to leave the building safely if they can. If they can’t escape, they are trained fight back with anything available.
At the suggestion of Couturier, the district’s hallways and classrooms have improved signage so police can more easily identify areas of the schools. Police are aware of the lockdown drills and have floor plans for all the schools.
“We can’t say enough about partnering with our police department,” Scruci said.
The police and sheriff departments also have one “Boot” installed at each office so they can train on it. Special keys coded for each building allow law enforcement to access rooms barricaded by the “Boots.”
At least 60 percent of the “Boots” were purchased with donations from the community. Couturier has also said if the district renovates or constructs new buildings, his company will reinstall the equipment at no charge.
Each school also requires visitors to be buzzed in at the building offices, but there are still some gaps due to the aging buildings. “We do have some challenges,” Scruci said. None of the schools are equipped with metal detectors.
The school district also emphasizes the need for students and staff to report troubling behavior in students.
“We’re still trying to figure out the mental health piece,” Scruci said of the national approach to school violence. In the case of the accused Parkland shooter, many people had seen and reported threatening behavior.
“A lot of kids predicted he was the kid who would do this. There were signs.”
During this school year, the Bowling Green district has been alerted two or three times about students with problems, and the police were notified, he said.
“They probably know before anybody else and they need to step forward,” Scruci said. “I’m proud we have students who are willing to do that.”
Scruci pointed out that Parkland, Florida, had recently been named one of the safest cities in the state.
“There’s a common thread with the shootings. These aren’t happening in the inner cities. They are happening in suburban settings,” he said. “It’s scary. It’s very scary.”