Mesa schools would have powerful pepper spray canisters available to front office staff if the district’s chief safety officer can make it happen.
The idea was one of several recommendations given to the Mesa Unified School District governing board Tuesday night by Al Moore, director of the district’s office of school safety and security.
After the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December which claimed the lives of 20 students and six adults, the Mesa district moved up plans to evaluate school sites and protocols to improve safety. In January, the district started its campus-by-campus analysis. The report was given to the board in February and outlined physical improvement plans, such as adding and replacing fencing at some sites.
Tuesday’s presentation addressed protocol issues, such posting of emergency plans, visitor, student and staff identification badges and door locks.
“Our protocols are up to speed and they compare to all the best practices in the country. We continually work with the police department to make sure we’re doing what they want,” Moore told the board.
But there were some areas for improvement, including:
· Giving all elementary schools an “Ident-A-Kid” system, a computerized program where visitors sign in and are given a printed badge to wear on campus;
· Installing surveillance camera systems on the 30 elementary school sites that do not have them;
· Installing peep holes on classroom doors;
· Replacing Plexiglas in previously broken windows with glass or a suitable substitute;
· Assuring all doors have an ability to be locked;
· Using phone intercom functions that are not currently in place.
Moore admitted his idea to “arm office staff with pepper spray” may be controversial, and costly, but he noted that it could be effective in the case of an emergency.
“I’m not talking about the little canisters but the big ones. The bear repellant you can buy at Sportsman’s is the same thing SWAT teams use. It goes out 30 feet,” he said.
Staff would need training, he said. And it would only be used against someone with a gun, knife or other weapon, like a bat.
“The clerical staff is sitting there. If someone comes in to do something bad, they’re the ones who will get it,” Moore said.
Board members asked how pepper spray works.
“Most officers don’t carry Mace,” Moore said. “For people who are on drugs or are intoxicated, it doesn’t work. Pepper spray works. It burns, affects breathing and nasal passages.”
But Moore said he does not know of any other district using pepper spray as a safety mechanism.
The board made few comments about ideas as they were running out of time during a study session.
The district board will take the recommendations and decide on them in the near future. So far, about $3 million in funding has been earmarked for school safety. It will come from the first $46 million available in a bond program approved by voters in November. The entire bond program is $230 million.
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