FOX 11 Investigates efforts to improve school safety

Security upgrade to main entrance at Wequiock Elementary in Green Bay as part of referendum funding. (WLUK/Mark Leland)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Wisconsin is spending $100 million to make our schools safer across the state. Most agree the money is helping to make safety upgrades, but some question whether those upgrades go far enough.

School shootings across the country have become commonplace, with more than 50 incidents of gunfire reported already in 2018 on school ground. The deadliest at Parkland, Florida where 17 students and staff were killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in February. That mass shooting prompted Wisconsin legislators to pass legislation to create the Office of School Safety to strengthen school security.

“With all the school shooters, we’ve seen over the years there have been red flags,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who heads up the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

DOJ oversees the Office of School Safety created earlier this year. Its goal is to prevent school shootings and other violence by pumping $100 million into security upgrades and staff training at schools around the state.

School districts submitted plans for security improvements, and this summer were awarded $48 million.

The original plan was to have the upgrades in place by the start of the school year. Many of those upgrades are required elements -- like locks on all doors, shatter resistant film to go front entrance glass, and additional security cameras. But the improvements haven’t yet happened for many schools.

Chris Collar heads up security for the Green Bay Area Public School District.

“What they thought was going to be quicker and give districts the ability to do over the summer, summer’s almost over and they’re just getting their grant awards,” said Collar.

In addition to delays in grant funding, districts like Green Bay, which received grant approval at the end of June, found with so many districts ordering window film and security cameras, supplies were out of stock. And contractors were already booked.

“We’re working on getting things ordered and getting the pieces in place to start to get them implemented. It does take a little bit of time,” said Collar.

Green Bay was awarded $835,000. Work is being done at some of its schools to make front entrances more secure, but that work was funded through a referendum. We found construction taking place at Doty Elementary in Allouez, and Wequiock Elementary in Green Bay. The required shatter resistant film we were told will be added later.

Collar says he’s thankful for the money. But we wanted to know will it keep an active shooter out?

“You can harden a building as much as possible but there always seems to be a way for someone to get in if they want to.

Green Bay police consulted with Collar to develop the district’s safety plan as part of the grant application. Police Chief Andrew Smith wanted to take student safety one step further by incorporating armed retired police officers in the schools. But that was rejected.

“I just thought that was the best idea. I still think it’s the best idea to keep our kids’ safe,” said Smith.

Collar says he would like to see mental health professional located at the schools to be able to address early concerns with troubled students.

“That was the original thought that maybe we could look to add mental health professionals and other people like counselors, psychologists but it was quickly learned none of that would be possible,” said Collar.

Schimel says adding personnel isn’t sustainable with the limited funding.

“We’d have maybe a two-year fix that felt good for a while but there’s not a long-term answer,” said Schimel.

Families and teachers we talked to welcome the security improvements.

“Due to everything that’s been happening in the past, the safer the better for my grandchildren,” said Patti Martens of Green Bay.

Justine Delfosse is president of Green Bay Education Association and a teacher at West High School.

“It’s good to have the extra funding for safety we’d just like to see extra funding for everything else now,” said Delfosse.

The upgrades may cause peace of mind for some, but the experts say don’t be fooled into a false sense of security.

“Well I don’t think there’s any place that I as chief can guarantee is 100 percent safe. If we say a school, or airport or public building is 100 percent safe, there’s always a chance someone is going to figure out a way to circumvent it,” said Smith.

In addition to the physical upgrades, districts receiving grant money are required to have their entire staff undergo three hours of trauma informed care training. Chief Smith, Attorney General Schimel and district officials all believe schools will be safer this year than they were last year, thanks to the upgrades and awareness being raised.

Districts are currently in the process of submitting applications for phase two of grant funding from the Office of School Safety. An additional $48 million is available, with the money focusing on advanced staff training to respond to active shooters, and to better understand and address student issues dealing with mental health.

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