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No rush to lock doors, Manitoba school divisions say

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Manitoba's public schools aren't rushing to lock their front doors or beef up security, even though Ontario will be locking the front doors at its elementary schools.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday he wants all Ontario elementary school doors locked by next September.

"We don't have any perfect solution for this," Keith Thomas, risk manager for the Manitoba School Boards Association, said this week.

As they did after Columbine, after Taber, after other school tragedies, Manitoba educators are reviewing school safety, but opting not to turn them into fortresses.

"We will be reviewing all policies and requirements with our educational and other partners to see what more, if anything, needs to be done," deputy education minister Gerald Farthing said in a statement Friday.

Most schools now lock all but their front doors, a measure implemented about a decade ago.

The provincial Safe Schools Charter requires every school to have an emergency plan in place.

But Manitoba schools have previously rejected guards, armed or otherwise, metal detectors, and other measures adopted in some American schools. There are some cameras, but they're far from ubiquitous.

A few schools lock their front doors once classes start, and Thomas said there are a few that have cameras and intercoms. "Some have systems where you have to be beeped in," he said.

In discussing possible changes in the past week, Thomas said, "We keep going back to, in Connecticut, that the school was locked, and the guy shot his way in."

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said a locked door will not stop what happened in Newtown, Conn.

"I tend to think this is government trying to look as though it's doing something. That school had a very modern security system, and it didn't help," Olson said.

"Practically speaking, it's probably not achievable. The reality is that school doors are swinging open all day long," for students, staff, and tradesmen who have a legitimate need to go in and out.

Front doors left unlocked are visible from the office, Thomas said. Where schools have sophisticated security systems, the tendency is to be less vigilant once everyone gets used to them, he said.

"Some schools have trained their teachers, and even their students, if they see someone without a visitor pass, to ask if I can help you, or point them to the office," he said.

There has been debate over requiring teachers to step out into the corridor to lock classroom doors from the outside and then pull them shut from the inside. While that may make the teacher vulnerable, said Thomas, the teacher can also spot student stragglers and bring them inside.

City divisions said Friday they don't plan any sudden changes.

"All of our schools have the front door open during the school day. Some will secure other doors to control access. We are not, at present, considering changes," said Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O'Leary, who was echoed by Louis Riel superintendent Duane Brothers and by River East Transcona School Division.

A Pembina Trails spokeswoman said the division would take its cues from the province, while Winnipeg School Division is looking at Ontario's experience.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 A7

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