Thomson Middle School and Thomson High School now have the same front entrance security as all the elementary schools in the county. Assistant Superintendent Jim Franklin said it was one of his goals to secure the front entrances during the summer, and it was completed at both schools in August.
The doors are equipped with key pads, push buttons and cameras. To open the door, a visitor must push a button and wait for the proper response.
"This basically encourages people to come through the front doors, come to the office and go through the proper check-in channels," said Claude Powell, the principal of Thomson Middle School.
The entrance procedure, described by the principal as "standard admission security," requires a secretary to verbally acknowledge the caller and release the locked door.
"It is more to do, but we've got to be as safe as we can," said Beth Rodgers, the TMS secretary. "We just can't be too careful about anything. ... I'm happy about anything that makes us more safe."
Having a safe learning environment is one of the McDuffie County school system's top goals in their mission statement, according to the system's literature. Locking doors to keep intruders out is a challenge because those inside need to be able to exit quickly in the event of an emergency. The exterior doors are equipped with sensors to accommodate such an incident.
But the cost for such security measures can get high. Mr. Powell said the middle school has 27 exterior doors. Dr. Franklin said only the front doors of each school are equipped with the camera/key pad/buzzer combinations, which cost $2,400 each. The other doors remain locked except during class changing time. There are cameras all over both the middle school and high school campuses, with monitors inside the principal's office areas.
School Board Chairman Jerry Randolph said he visited the high school one day last week, and was pleased to have to push the buzzer and identify himself before being allowed inside.
"It's a shame we have to do that in today's society," he said. "But the different things that have happened around the country, those people just walked in the door and they changed a lot of lives in just a few seconds. I don't want to get that phone call."
The board has been trying to get the security measures for the past two years, but the funds were not in the budget, according to Mr. Randolph.
"I feel better," he said. "I kind of got impatient. ... But now it's there. ... Whatever it cost, it was well-worth the money. ... I'm glad to see it's finally done."