Kate Gohr, the principal at John Jacob Astor Elementary School, has mixed feelings about the building’s distinction as a main filming location in the 1990 action-comedy “Kindergarten Cop” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“We have kind of the unique situation of having tourists want to come into our building all the time, so that’s very tricky,” she said.
“In the summer, it’s all the time, and it continues through the school year. People want me to give them tours.”
A sign posted on the front door lets visitors know the building is for school business only. But Gohr and other staff often struggle with unwanted visitors.
Adding to the struggle is the location of the school’s office, down a hallway from the main entrance — the only door that has until recently remained unlocked during the school day.
The Astoria School District recently installed video intercom and buzz-in systems at Astor, Lewis and Clark Elementary School and Astoria Middle School in an effort to improve security.
“By locking the doors throughout the school day, we can assure that each school building will only contain people who have a need to be there,” Superintendent Craig Hoppes wrote in a letter to parents. “This safety measure is one assurance that our schools will be safer and more secure.”
Front doors will lock 25 minutes after the start of each day and unlock 15 minutes before school ends. Each school office is equipped with a screen linked to a camera outside the front entrance. Visitors are screened by office staff, who can remotely open the door after checking IDs. The doors are locked to the outside and do not prevent people inside from opening them in case of an emergency.
No system was installed at Astoria High School because of the greater number of entrances around campus, Hoppes wrote, but the district will continue to look at other security measures for the campus.
Billy Eddy, the school district’s director of transportation and maintenance, said adding security has to be balanced with what the district can afford. Additional beefed-up security measures, such as more cameras and secured vestibules at entrances, are under discussion with a new round of voter-approved bonds in the offing, Eddy said.
Locking doors and buzzing in visitors has become more common around the U.S. in the wake of school shootings. Astoria found a contractor to install its system through Knappa. The rural school district east of Astoria has locked its doors and used key-carded entry and video monitoring for the past eight years.
“It’s becoming extremely common,” Knappa Superintendent Paulette Johnson said. “I haven’t worked at a district that doesn’t have some sort of electronic entry.”
Echoing the concerns of other administrators, Johnson said the most common occurrence is parents and guardians coming in and not checking in at the office, leaving staff without an idea of who’s walking around school.
Tom Rogozinski, principal of Warrenton Grade School, said his district locks all but the front entrance during school and approaches unidentified visitors, but has not had serious issues with people not checking in at the office. Sheila Roley, superintendent of Seaside School District, said her district also locks all but front doors, uses security cameras and plans to enhance security at the new K-12 campus being built.
Shortly after a spate of school shootings from Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut to Reynolds High in Troutdale, Astoria started bringing in security consultants and instituted a new standardized protocol for responding to crises. Local schools installed new two-way portable radio systems, GPS trackers on buses, improved public-address systems, mechanisms to lock classroom doors from inside and curtains to hide students. They started locking all ancillary doors.
The next logical step was to control access to the front entrance, the last remaining open access point, said Lewis and Clark Principal Brian Ploghoft.
“At any given moment, I have almost 500 people in this building I’m trying to keep safe and keep an eye on,” Ploghoft said. “I don’t feel our community is unsafe. I feel this will be another measure to keep people safe. I’d rather argue safety, instead of arguing after something bad happens and wondering why.”