Twin Cities school upgrades security after Newtown

PLYMOUTH, Minn. – No one can say Providence Academy wasn't paying attention to the lessons of Sandy Hook Elementary.

One year after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Providence has instituted some of the most ambitious school security upgrades in Minnesota.

"As these terrible tragedies have been happening around the country, we have to be serious about learning from them," said Todd Flanders, headmaster of the Catholic school, located in Plymouth.

Providence has spent more than $40,000 on upgrades since Newtown, money that was raised last April at a school fundraiser and specifically earmarked for security.

Among the improvements is protective film that's been applied to the school's first-floor exterior windows, as well as interior office and classroom windows throughout the school.

The shooter at Newtown gained entry to the school by shooting through glass around locked doors. At least twice in Minnesota – in Hastings and Red Lake – armed intruders have broken glass in locked classroom doors to reach students hiding in classrooms.

Providence purchased window security film manufactured by 3M.

"Baseball bats, crowbars; they're not going to get through," said Flanders.

The film won't stop a bullet, but it will hold glass in place as the bullet passes through, again keeping an intruder from reaching in an arm to unlock a door.

Flanders says it's all meant to slow down an intruder, giving police and school security officers time to respond.

Providence has also started securing locks at all times on its classroom doors, while inserting a small magnet on the doors' metal frames to keep doors from latching. The magnets allow students to come and go from classrooms, but can be quickly removed by teachers in the event of a threatening situation in the hall.

Just inside the school's front door, sits one of two retired Plymouth police officers hired by Providence. The officers view computer monitors connected to 32 cameras mounted in and outside the school.

"If I had children going here, I would appreciate them having this type of security," said Dale Duerksen, who retired as a Plymouth police sergeant in 2010 and was hired by Providence a few months later.

Duerksen will have another tool at his disposal early next year when the school introduces a high-tech video monitor and remote locking system at the school's front door.

Nancy Lageson, director of the Minnesota School Safety Center, applauded the upgrades made by Providence Academy, while acknowledging some schools don't have the funds to do the same.

She said the most important lessons from Newtown and other shootings is for schools to have a plan in place should the unthinkable happen in their buildings.

"That's huge," Lageson said, "and everybody can do that."


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