Photo caption: Door security at UAHS has increased over the years from having many entrances open during the school day to two: the main office and the senior doors. This tightening of security is a divisive topic among students and community members alike.
Security initiatives like school ID checks and potentially closing lunch prompt discussion within UAHS administration and student body
by Sophie Yang and Katie Zhao, ’19
It’s fifth period rush hour. Students jostle one another at the main staircase while late arrivals pour in from the senior doors. Junior John Wilson*, who left his student ID on his kitchen table, slips past the backed-up line at the door monitor table with the crowd spilling into UAHS.
“There are so many of us walking by at once where even if I don’t pull mine out, they’ll let me in,” Wilson said.
The door monitor system, despite its occasional faults, is part of UAHS’s efforts to ramp up security. Spurred by recent events like the Parkland, Florida, shooting, UA has raised ideas ranging from tightening door security to ending open lunch. Yet, parents and students continue to wonder whether these changes will result in a safer learning experience.
* denotes source who requested anonymity
According to principal Andrew Theado, the number of exterior doors open during the school day has decreased over the years, and it’s now down to a total of two: the main doors and senior doors. A monitor was added last year to the senior doors to check IDs, and a few weeks ago, the administration created a rotating armed police officer position.
“The [monitor] sitting there should be checking the computer to confirm the [student’s identity] through PowerSchool, then getting the person to the learning center [for Erin Schumacher] to get them an ID,” Theado said.
Students who forget their IDs must also pencil their names on a sign-in sheet. According to door monitor Denise L’Heureux, these students fill out a total of about two sign-in sheets each day, which are then given to vice principal Luis Vazquez.
The door monitors and security guards are now part of everyday life at UAHS, but whether they are effective or not is hard to tell.
“At 8:04, anyone can walk in—anyone can do anything, but at 8:05, now you have to walk past somebody,” Wilson said. “It’s like security theater. It’s making people think they’re safe, when in reality [they’re not].”
The dilemmas of photoshopped or lost IDs also troubles some.
“I’ve found student IDs in parking lots before, so if I was someone with malicious intent and I didn’t go to this school, I could just pick that up, and I’d be fine because [the monitors] don’t really look at the picture,” Wilson said.
Freshman Jacob Larmor similarly believes the ID checks don’t always go far enough.
“I think it’s helped to the point where someone without a school ID can’t get [in], but a student can still bring dangerous weapons into the school,” Larmor said.
Larmor suggested metal detectors as a solution to this issue. Although the administration is considering metal detectors alongside other updates, they present both financial and logistical barriers. Following a recommendation by the chief of police, for metal detectors to have any benefit, they would have to be added at all exterior doors with an armed officer at each.
“The idea is if you do find something, you have to have somebody there who’s trained to deal with it,” Theado said.
As a current safeguard, former UAHS students are no longer allowed during school hours to enter the building as visitors to see old friends and teachers. However, according to Rice and a door monitor, the process for outsiders entering the school involves signing a sheet, explaining a purpose—like buying game tickets at the athletic office—and receiving a pink visitor sticker. The ease of receiving visitor status raises some security concerns.
Despite occasional flaws in the ID system, an Arlingtonian survey of 218 students found that 48 percent believe it is increasing or strongly increasing safety at UAHS, and 82 percent of students find that the armed police officer position positively affects security.
While Theado acknowledges the ID system as imperfect, he believes it adds strongly to UA’s overall safety.
“There’s no one [change] that’s going to make our building 100 percent safe,” Theado said. “This is just one layer of making sure who we’re letting in the building is supposed to be in the building.”
History teacher Nate Palmer agreed.
“There’s a lot of fear right now. I think that there are some efforts being made to assuage some of those fears. At least now, more visible police presence doesn’t hurt,” Palmer said.
The rumor swirling around the school has some truth to it: the topic of closing campus, which would end open lunch for all students and open study hall for seniors, has been tossed around the administration.
If enacted, the path to closing campus would begin with Superintendent Paul Imhoff making a recommendation—either to keep open or close campus—to the Upper Arlington Board of Education. The five board members would then vote on the matter, delivering the final decision to UAHS.
Arlingtonian reached out to Imhoff for his thoughts on closing campus. In his reply, Imhoff noted the idea was a “serious consideration,” as was the safety of the students at staff at UAHS.
For students resisting the possible end of open campus, there is hope.
“[Closing lunch] is being seriously considered, but . . . as of April 5, it has not been recommended to the board yet,” Theado said.
Although a change could come at any point or not at all, it is unlikely that campus will be closed until after this school year. However, Theado recognizes the mass coordination and reorganization efforts that would come with closed campus.
“Think about the number of study halls, lunches, the number of people we have in this building,” Theado said. “At this point, I have some ideas about if it does close, what I think it’ll look like.”
From a security standpoint, UAHS’s School Resource Officer Jon Rice said closing lunch seems to be a necessity.
“It’s a security risk: when you have that many people coming and going, it means you have more open doors throughout the day. If a shooter wanted to get in, they just need to wait until lunchtime when the doors are wide open with people flooding out,” Rice said. “But how it would impact Upper Arlington is tradition . . . I have people who say, ‘Oh, I went to UA, and my dad went to UA, and it was so nice to have open lunch.’”
Theado echoes a similar sentiment.
“There are safety considerations, but there are also considerations regarding student freedoms and [the] culture that we have in our building,” Theado said.
Although the administration-level conversations focus on closing campus as a safety-versus-liberty issue, some students see it as a loss both ways. Arlingtonian’s survey found 52 percent of students believed closing lunch would have no effect on safety, and 37 percent believed it would decrease safety, Wilson among them.
“In the case of a [shooting], [closed campus] not only increases the concentration of students in an area . . . but if there’s ‘full capacity’ students in the building, it’s hard to get out, whereas if there’s a lower concentration, the flow is a lot faster,” Wilson said.
From conversations with students and parents alike, Theado notes that closing campus is a very divisive issue, and the positives and negatives need to be carefully weighed.
“Sometimes, folks have to make decisions that they believe to be the best even though it’s not going to be popular,” Theado said.
Freshman Jacob Larmor said he understands the administration’s need for security.
“I enjoy going out to lunch with my friends, but if we can’t find another way to make the school safe inside and out, I’d think it’s the right thing to do,” Larmor said.
Sophomore Emma Mattson-Surgenor, however, agrees that there will be pushback if open campus is ended.
“I do think a lot of students are like, ‘I want my study hall open,’ ‘I want my lunch open,’” Mattson-Surgenor said.
Freshman Phia Stayer, who is opposed to closing campus, said she would want students’ voices to be heard if it is ended.
“It’s like punishing the students when there is—in reality—a pretty small chance of something ever happening,” Stayer said. “I don’t know if there is as much of an avenue [between the administration and students] as there could be.”
In response to these concerns, Theado said students would be assured a say if the Board of Education voted to closed campus.
“We want to work with students beforehand, before anything is implemented,” Theado said. “We would probably have to do some sort of focus group or town hall meeting with students . . . We can vent a little bit, get that out of the way, but then say: how are we going to move forward?”
Preparing for Lockdown
Later this school year, UAHS leadership will work with the UAPD to conduct a more active emergency drill.
“I’m hoping we can work out all the logistics before the end of the school year and practice more drills. It’ll give students some peace of mind . . . and [they’ll] know what to do in these situations,” Theado said.
Mattson-Surgenor is a strong supporter of these more active drills.
“I know that a ‘level 3’ means running out of the school and protecting yourself, but we don’t know what happens in each of these situations if we don’t practice it. It scares me that I won’t know what to do, where I am and what I have around me if [something] were to happen,” Mattson-Surgenor said.
In lockdowns—including the level 1 that occurred March 20 in response to a suspicious individual in the community—door monitor Denise L’Heureux said she and the armed security officer act as the school’s “first line of fire.”
“[We] check the doors and make sure the kids are not going out,” L’Heureux said.
Yet, the procedures for lockdown could be seeing a major upheaval, as could all of UA’s security policies, following the in-depth safety audit being conducted by the UA Police Department, UA Fire Department and Safeguard Risk Solutions at all the Upper Arlington schools.
“They’re looking at everything from how we’re doing in-and-out using our doors, drills, looking at buzzer systems, looking at classrooms,” Theado said. “Maybe we’ll add a buzzer system . . . we’ll have to wait to see what the audit says.”
Whether students are for or against the proposed and implemented changes, the ever-shifting environment of school safety requires constant attention.
“A lot of people resist change,” Rice said. “It makes people uncomfortable because they have to produce the ID and they’re not used to it. But if we stay with it . . . eventually it’ll become the norm. It’s kind of like having an SRO in the school . . . now it’s just an everyday thing.”
With the advent of newer security systems and extensive changes to come, Theado stresses the importance of consulting and working together with the community.
“You want to consider all those perspectives, but at the end of the day, we have to make the best decision for our kids,” Theado said.