Bethel Superintendent talks quest for school safety after working in Colorado during Columbine Shooting

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SPANAWAY, Wash. – This weekend marks 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting.  Over the last two decades, we’ve seen deadlier shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Parkland.  That’s why there’s continued emphasis to make our schools safer.

Shootings at schools are becoming all too common, but one of the first that sent shock waves across the country was at Columbine.

“This morning my wife asked 'Has it been 20 years?'” said Bethel School District Superintendent Tom Seigel.

On April 20, 1999, Seigel was a superintendent at Boulder Valley in Colorado, just next door to Columbine High School when two shooters changed U.S. history for the worse.

“I think about this more often than I would even like to talk about,” said Seigel.

Since then, Seigel has spent 20 years making schools safer. He says the school district is one of the first in the state to use a video conference system to prevent access to the schools. That feature can be found at all 27 schools.

The superintendent wants to add a second layer of security to all school buildings. So after a visitor is allowed through the main entrance of any building, he wants there to be a second entrance where there’s a waiting period where visitors have to be re-verified before they can access a school building.

Those improvements can happen now that voters have approved a $443 million bond measure. Even before those dollars were secured, just this summer, the district added peep holes to make sure teachers in portables could see who was at the door.

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Visitors must use the video conference security system outside Camas Prairie Elementary School in Spanaway.

“It slows them down, it may not prevent them 100 percent but it slows them down,” said Bethel Schools Risk Manager Lauren Lassater.

If you’re inside a school, all 1,000 classrooms can now lock from the inside.

“There was never any belief that you would have to lock kids into a classroom to keep kids safe,” said Seigel.

That thinking has now changed. Nearly every school district in our area is doing something to increase security. In August, the Bellevue School district construction crews just built a new middle school with a state-of-the-art security features.

“Sounds of violence down the hallway simply slide this down and the door is locked from the outside. Nobody can get in,” said Seigel.

The superintendent argues the state’s antiquated super-majority for school bonds is slowing down a district’s chance to provide increased security.

“Some of the security vestibules we’re talking about are really expensive.  We’re talking about bulletproof glass. Let’s just be honest, some of this is bulletproof glass. And so it’s something we don’t normally have money for and it requires a bond. But if you have to wait three years or five years from the time you have to say 'We have a problem' until you finally have enough money to put that sort of security measure in 27 buildings, you’ve left that vulnerability through those years,” said Seigel.

He’s also calling on lawmakers to increase mental health funding for kids so they don’t become suicidal or homicidal.

“We need to hire people to help kids. This would be an ask beyond what we currently get. So that we do have more social workers, we do have more psychologists to help with some of the problems our kids face,” said Seigel.

Until then, Seigel says they’ve added more school resource officers. The district has also given school floor plans to local law enforcement just in case there’s an incident at one of their schools.

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