“I feel like I’m in a fishbowl because of the windows all around me. It’s pretty drastic, but I understand why it’s necessary these days, sadly,” said Lisa Richardson, Attendance Secretary stationed in the remodeled area.
Oyster River High School (ORHS) has updated the front office after the New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security (NH-DHS) suggested it while auditing schools across the state. NH-DHS also supplied the school with a federal grant in order to do so. NH-DHS provided a list of other changes to be made, some already present, others being considered. Students coming back to school for the 2019-20 school year were greeted with this remodeled entrance, along with other improved safety measures like a new School Resource Officer.
The front office remodel was on top of the list of recommendations for improved safety. Michael McCann, Dean of Students for ORHS, said, “the way the office had been set up prior to this had become problematic with the amount of traffic coming into the office. It became more and more difficult to really monitor people coming and going, whether it’s students or visitors. So this is helping to reduce the flow of traffic and being able to check with people by having different checkpoints on the way in and having a visual of who’s at the door.”
The first of the checkpoints McCann mentioned is outside. The school has a camera outside the main doors that the office staff can see through and unlock after someone rings it. This checkpoint was not part of the new additions to the front office, but is still in use.
Once someone comes through, they are met with another set of doors and a window to the front office made of bulletproof glass with an intercom next to it. On the other side of the glass, the front office staff unlocks the second door to let the visitor in.
The second door after the entrance way leads to the main entrance to the front office. There is a second entrance way with two check-in kiosks for students and visitors and a sliding window with another intercom, in the window, to the front office where Ricahrdson works. The door that leads to the school can be locked from inside, manually by a key, if a threat is presented.
Richardson, who sits in her new office area every day, said that, “I really didn’t like the thought of being moved over into an office because I liked being out and talking to the kids and having interactions and being one on one. This way, I’m behind windows everywhere. I didn’t like that. I still don’t like it.”
Students are also skeptical about the change to the front office. Josephine Chinburg (‘21) said that she also didn’t like the new layout and that it was hard to hear out of the intercom in the first window. Chinburg was shocked when she came to school because she didn’t know about the remodeling, and she went on to say that she thought it was “a little much.”
The office wasn’t the only change for school security. There is a new School Resource Officer (SRO) who is patrolling both the middle and high school in the Oyster River school district.
Officer Thomas Kilroy has an office located in a small hallway next to the nurse’s office at the high school. He explained that although the Durham Police Department has had an SRO in the high school for the past 20 years, they’re taking a new approach to the role this year. “This is the first year that an SRO is wearing a uniform every day,” said Kilroy. He said that one of his major duties is providing a presence in the school. “Having a uniform and having a cruiser outside in front of the school is the first line of defense.” But the school is being cautious with what they include for security matters.
“We don’t want [school] to be such a scary place,” said McCann. “We don’t want it to be a militaristic kind of place, but we’re trying to take as many precautions as possible. Anytime you implement any sort of safety measures, it does impact convenience, and so we try to balance that.”
Kilroy wanted to make it clear that he was only here as a resource. “It’s not just strictly police. My underlying role is security, but there’s a lot more behind the role.” He said, “we’re here to be protective and make sure that we encourage young people that we’re on their side and that we’re here to help.”
The school is still working on getting some more safety and security precautions. They are planning on making the front office’s outer windows bulletproof by applying a special film over it. There was also discussion of getting bollards, which are posts that are to deter traffic from riding on certain areas. They are considering placing them in front of the school by the main doors. McCann also mentioned that the school has been monitoring the cameras and doors more closely.
The school is still enforcing safety drills including ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) by having teachers go over the meanings behind it and why the drills are important to learn, along with students participating in drills. Kilroy explained what teachers could do in these situations. “[Teachers] could maybe ask the class, ‘what would you do?’ to get an idea of what people feel comfortable doing.” He also mentioned that it’s better to plan ahead for these sorts of situations.
Everyone agreed that the most important thing that students and faculty can do ensure school-wide security is by following the “see something, say something” rule.