Jessamine County Schools

Safety Information Series

Part 3 of 6

Physical Facilities

The JCS safety plan is part of our district’s culture and daily practice.  While some of our behind -the -scene methods may not be as obvious to our community, many of the safety features of our physical facilities are a more visible portion of our plan to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors to our campuses.  

Our district has been working to improve the security of our physical facilities for a number of years.  During the 2013-14 school year, the Jessamine County Board of Education approved an additional $300,000 of funding to enhance safety measures throughout the district.   This funding has been utilized to install buzzer systems with video monitoring at each school entry, provide additional cameras in our schools and on our grounds, increase the number of radios to improve communication and response time, and locate emergency kits in each district building.  

Five years ago, our schools changed from utilizing multiple access points to a single point of entry.  The practice of using a single, prominent entryway and locking all other exterior doors dramatically improves the control of access to our buildings and enhances the awareness of who is in our buildings at all times.  The use of buzzer systems and video monitoring allows front office staff to determine an individual’s purpose for visiting our schools and grant access on an “as needed” basis.  Visitors to our schools are required to sign in and out, providing another way for our schools to track who is in the building.

Another layer of protection, a secured vestibule, routes those who are allowed into the building through the main office, preventing visitors from gaining access to the rest of the school until they have checked in with office staff.  Currently, 12 of our 14 schools have a secured vestibule and the board has approved the funding and construction for the remaining two schools.  Architects are currently working on the designs to complete the projects for West Jessamine High School and The Providence School.  

Safety is our utmost priority.  In planning for the design of school buildings, this priority must be balanced with design principles that enhance academic programs and foster a nurturing learning environment for students.  For example, while it should be difficult for an intruder to move through the school, students must be able to travel within the school easily.  Features including a more transparent, open environment with natural light, replacing brick with glass, and providing open spaces that allow for students to interact and work collaboratively are desirable for a learning environment, but can produce challenges for security.   We have worked hard to balance these needs in the design of our buildings and have supported this effort with systematic precautions to secure our schools and keep students safe while they learn.  

The design and layout of a school contributes not only to ease of use and daily function, but also to supervision and safety issues.  For example, creating wide, straight hallways and bathrooms with open entryways allows for improved supervision and for teachers to spot problem behaviors more quickly.  An open environment, in which students and staff can easily see and be seen, is key to supervision and fostering positive interactions between students.   JCS schools designate areas and assign supervision based on the layout of each school, optimizing supervision and placing personnel where they are most needed.    Other items utilized for daily school routines also play an important role in safety.   Exterior and interior signage and clearly marked and identified classrooms and other spaces help to ensure that students, staff, and first responders can easily maneuver through the facility in case of an emergency.    

Our schools employ the use of multiple tools to aid in safety and security measures.  You might be surprised to learn that our schools utilize 329 cameras placed throughout the district.   As part of our on-going efforts to improve our safety precautions, we are currently exploring the feasibility of an upgrade to our camera software which would allow law enforcement to view facility hallways and the exterior of the building in an emergency.  The use of cameras isn’t limited to our buildings.  Since 2015, our district’s transportation fleet has had cameras installed in all buses to help ensure that the ride to and from school is safe as well.   Our schools use intercom systems to aid in daily announcements as well as to assist with timely communication and instructions in the event of an emergency.   Each school is equipped with radios and bullhorns to enhance communication and emergency and first aid kits to assist in a crisis.    

Our most powerful resource to ensure that our physical facilities are safe places to learn and work is our team.  Our students and staff are vital to keeping our buildings secure and their commitment and involvement make a crucial difference.   Students are instructed not to open exterior doors for visitors, or even other students or staff members, and propping exterior doors open is not allowed during school hours.  These practices ensure that we preserve the benefits of utilizing a single point of entry.   Staff members are required to wear badges identifying them as JCS employees and students and staff are trained to monitor adults in our buildings to ensure that either a staff badge or a visitor’s nametag is visible.  Staff members are instructed to ask unidentified adults in the building for information regarding their presence in the school.      

Our facility security features actually begin at our property lines.  Limited and well-maintained landscaping improves visibility and ensures that those on school property can be more easily seen and identified.  Bus lanes are separated from parent car lanes and other traffic to reduce the likelihood of accidents.  Gates control access to driveways and parking lots at specified times and as needed for special events.  Law enforcement partners and district personnel provide traffic control for the start of school and dismissal times.  Speed bumps in school drives and parking lots slow down traffic to protect pedestrians.  And, where possible, exterior barriers safeguard pedestrians and buildings from vehicular traffic.    

Every student and staff member should feel safe at school, while some, if not many, safety measures should be invisible to those protected by them.  School buildings need not look or feel like a fortress for students and staff to feel safe.  We want students to feel secure, in part due to their physical environment, but also because they know that we care about them and that we are doing everything that we can to protect them from natural disasters and other threats to their safety.  

I hope that this overview of the safety and security features related to the design and operations of our physical facilities has been helpful.  If you have recommendations for future actions to ensure the safety of our students, staff, and visitors, please share them at this link.