Schools put finishing touches on new security measures

The Hillsborough County School district continued stepping up security measures this week, with less than 10 days left before the first day of the new school year.

The district is making sure every school has a new system to keep track of who comes in and out of the buildings. With the system, visitors have to be buzzed in by someone in the office. The rest of the time, the school remains locked.

"It's one more layer of defense and security of our schools and access control," said Chris Farkas, the district's deputy superintendent of operations. "If you look historically at some of the tragedies that have happened at school sites, something like that would have at least slowed them down."

More than 140 schools were already outfitted with buzzers. An additional 80 buildings are having them installed during the summer or early in the fall semester.

Officials gave news crews a look at the one that was being installed at Barrington Middle School, where Principal Amy Rappleyea is happy to have the added layer of security.

"You don't know what's going to happen. You have to be ready from day one. And we are ready from day one," she said. "That's the only way you're getting into this school. So to be able to have people state their purpose -- why are you here? What do you need? How can I help you? -- And to be able to have a time delay, where if somebody comes to the buzzer...if something doesn't look right, that gives us a few minutes to get that resource officer on the phone to get to the front."

District administrators said parents might also have to abandon some forms of common courtesy.

"I would say don't hold the door open. Make sure that they get a chance to buzz them in," Farkas said.

"If somebody is behind you, you have to say, 'I'm sorry, I've been buzzed in, you haven't,' and shut that door," Rappleyea added. "I absolutely know that all of my parents are going to buy into it because it's for the safety of their students."

The buzzers are expected to cost the district about $100,000. Farkas hopes to have the county reimbursed with state grant money.