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‘Safe Welcome’ program set to go

By Heather Latter, Fort Frances Times Ltd.

The Rainy River District School Board will activate the “Safe Welcome” program at its elementary schools this Monday (Oct. 7) as a way to provide a safer learning environment for students.
The program, which received funding from the Ministry of Education, saw security access devices installed at the main doors of each school to monitor visitors.
“It will ensure that parents and authorized visitors have access to elementary schools while keeping students and staff safe,” noted Travis Enge, the board’s manager of plant operations and maintenance.
Prior to this year, all exterior doors—with the exception of the front door—were locked during the school day.
But the “Safe Welcome” program also will see the front door locked for the duration of the school day, with a camera/speaker unit feeding to video monitors in the main office.
Enge said the system “will operate much like a system at most large apartment buildings.”
“As a parent or visitor approaches the main entrance of the school, they will notice a sign that states, ‘Welcome. Please Press for Assistance. Thank You for your patience,’” he explained.
An arrow on the sign will point to the device.
“The visitor will then press the button located at the bottom of the device,” Enge continued.
“An attendant in the school will hear a chime and see a video feed of the visitor outside the door.”
Enge said the attendant, using the intercom system, will be able to speak to the visitor, verify their identity, and ask who they are there to visit.
“Once satisfied, the attendant will then push a button and ‘buzz’ in the visitor,” he added.
Visitors still are asked to report to the office for sign-in.
However, Enge said should a special event be taking place at the school, where many parents or caregivers are attending, the front door simply will remain open.
“The idea is to keep the front door locked whenever practical,” he remarked.
He added the security access devices were installed at most schools over the summer and those that had the equipment have been testing them out.
“At [a recent] principal session, a discussion was held with the principals and suggestions came forward for improvements,” Enge noted.
“The principals have now brought information back to the schools to ensure everyone understands how the system works, the expectations of the program, and to ensure that everyone is trained on its use.”
The “Safe Welcome” program first was initiated by the Ministry of Education in 2005-06. Then last December, it announced funding would re-open to expand the program and put in place access device systems.
In order to be eligible for the funding, schools had to have front doors that could not been seen from the office of the school and are required to have locked doors as a condition of the funding.
The RRDSB received approval and a set of specifications was tendered this past spring.
With the “go live” date set for Monday, Enge indicated a communication plan for both the communities and the schools is moving forward.
Information about the “Safe Welcome” program will be in the newspapers, on the radio, and sent home to parents.
The board noted principals maintain ultimate authority for visitors admitted into their school.
“We see the ‘Safe Welcome’ program as another component of our Safe Schools initiative,” the board noted in a recent release.
“We recognize that there will be a period of adjustment as we adapt to this change in security for our schools and we appreciate your patience during this period,” it added.

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