Security Upgrades Being Considered Across Vegas-Area Schools

LAS VEGAS (AP) — One of the more than 70 high schools in the Las Vegas-based Clark County School District has several examples of the kind of physical security that officials want to see districtwide as they assess safety in the wake of a string of high-profile acts of campus violence.

Chris Batterman, a coordinator in the district’s office of emergency management, pointed them out on a recent walk-through with the Las Vegas Sun at Mohave High School, a campus in North Las Vegas campus home to more than 2,500 students.

One example: How all visitors, like parents picking up their kids early, are funneled through the theater entrance, which has a separate exterior door outside of the school’s main gate.

There’s also a panoramic-view window, made into one-way glass by a graphic wrap, from the administrative office overlooking the quad.

The courtyard is spacious, with well-trimmed landscaping — bushes aren’t full enough to hide people — and the outdoor stairwells are airy, all to reduce blind spots and allow easy flow of foot traffic.

Signs of school spirit — like the mural of a coiled rattlesnake, Mojave’s mascot, looming from the high walls of one building — make the space inviting and something students want to adopt and protect as their community, Batterman said.

“It’s not just these locked doors that you’re looking at, it’s the whole picture — is this somewhere I want to be,” said Batterman, who was head of the Bonanza High School fire science program before moving into emergency management, a civilian department that is housed alongside CCSD Police.

But notably, it’s that theater entrance, a few paces east of Mojave’s main gate leading to the front office — a socially distanced holdover from pandemic protocols — that makes it harder for just anybody to come onto campus, especially if they have dubious intentions.

The main gate cannot be opened from the outside.

Single points of entry are among many target-hardening methods school officials are reviewing and will potentially boost into the summer and beyond.

But security upgrades will take time.

The Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth-largest, has more than 350 schools from Laughlin to Las Vegas to Mesquite, with enrollment ranging from a handful of pupils in rural elementary schoolhouses to 3,000 in sprawling high schools in the heart of the Las Vegas valley.

Panic buttons and other alert systems, surveillance cameras, fencing and controlled entry “are really the major categories that we’re looking at,” Mark Campbell, CCSD’s interim chief of facilities, said last month when announcing that the district had installed panic buttons at Eldorado High School.

Eldorado was where a shockingly violent student-on-teacher attack happened after school in early April, leading to a student being charged with sexual assault and attempted murder.

The school district had already announced a crackdown on violence — and its plans to better control entry onto campuses.

Families from Desert Oasis High School rallied for change when back-to-back brawls, including one involving a parent who fought with students in the school’s main hallway, put the school into two hard lockdowns in two days in early March.

District emergency management director Michael Wilson told the Sun he looks at schools through the lens of “crime prevention through environmental design.”

That’s the industry standard, touted by the national School Safety Advocacy Council, said Wilson, a former elementary school principal and onetime chief of the Bunkerville Volunteer Fire Department near Mesquite.

Emergency management staff had been evaluating campuses even before this spring’s burst of violence, he said. It’s part of their mission to prepare and protect schools from a range of potential human-caused and natural threats, like chemical spills and gas leaks, fires, extreme weather, rogue wildlife, air conditioning failures — and violence.

Campbell said officials from facilities, emergency management, police and on-site administration across the district are now taking stock of their schools for potential upgrades. A newly built school might not need any, he said. Architects and engineers will also contribute, Batterman said.

Generally, full upgrades will take years, Superintendent Jesus Jara said. High schools will get top priority, followed by middle and elementary schools.

A district spokesman said that costs of upgrades, including controlled entry, are to be determined.