As thousands of students head back to school in Western Washington, some school districts are upgrading security, including Tacoma Public Schools, which is rolling out millions of dollars in upgrades.
But 30 miles away, in Tahoma Public Schools, one parent is fighting for security changes across the district.
“It used to be a really exciting thing to think about—oh, my child is going to be starting school, this is going to be such a great experience,” Raime Rigby said. “Now, it’s almost the opposite. It’s really stressful.”
Rigby never thought she’d feel that way when her family moved to Maple Valley in 2020.
“I assumed that the doors at least would be locked for my child and that very basic safety precautions would already be in place… but they’re not,” she said.
She says she found out not all school building doors were locked when someone threatened a school there this March. Her daughter Brooklyn was in kindergarten at the time. She started speaking out and asking for change.
Then, tragedy in Uvalde just a couple of months later: a gunman entered an elementary school through an unlocked exterior door and gunned down 21 people, 19 of them children.
“My first thoughts obviously are all about the children themselves and the parents,” Rigby said. “And then, when you think about, what does this mean for us? Initially, I thought, our school has to act now.”
KIRO 7 asked the Tahoma School District about its policies and a spokesperson told us by email, “All perimeter doors and gates are locked at all times,” but when reporter Linzi Sheldon asked about main entrances, the spokesperson wrote back, “We are respectfully going to refrain from commenting further on the specific security practices... We don’t feel comfortable having potential vulnerabilities of our schools published.”
KIRO 7 reached out to several districts nearby and our state’s largest, Seattle Public Schools. KIRO 7 did not identify any specific school’s security measures, only district policies.
Regarding locking doors, Auburn said it wasn’t a required policy. In Fife and Kent, it’s the case in most schools. In Sumner-Bonney Lake, it varies, but buzz-in upgrades are underway, while in Seattle Public Schools, locking is described as “recommended.” A spokesperson wrote, “There can be some variance on how this guidance is applied in the variety of school buildings and campus layouts in our different communities.” In Puyallup and Tacoma, it’s ‘yes’ on locking. It’s unclear in Tahoma Public Schools.
Many districts have a single entry point during school hours: Auburn, Puyallup, Sumner-Bonney Lake and Tacoma. It’s the case for the majority of schools in Fife, while Kent and Seattle said it varies. Again, it’s unclear in Tahoma.
Most districts have cameras on all campuses, except for Fife, which is upgrading some cameras, and Seattle, which said most schools have them.
Thirty miles southwest, Tacoma Public Schools Spokesperson Kathryn McCarthy said the district has added 900 new cameras as part of a $28.7 million safety and security plan.
It comes from a $535 million bond passed by Tacoma voters in 2020.
“The safety and security of our staff and students—there is no higher priority,” McCarthy said. “No learning can happen if people aren’t safe.”
KIRO 7 obtained a list of district cameras and discovered upgrades were badly needed. Nearly 9% of them across the district weren’t working, including dozens at Meeker Middle School.
“Meeker had 52 cameras and 41 of them were offline,” reporter Linzi Sheldon said.
“Yeah, Meeker is a perfect example of why we needed upgraded camera systems in our schools,” McCarthy said. “We have an old system where the cameras are worn out.”
McCarthy said these upgraded cameras will allow them to share livestreams with police in an emergency, like an active shooter situation. She said they don’t use facial recognition, but they can help track down students based on what they were wearing. For example, if a student doesn’t arrive home on time, the school can go back to cameras looking at the bus loop and see if they even got on the bus or got on the wrong bus.
Tacoma parent Erin Hohman said she saw the district’s locked door policy in action at Jefferson Elementary, where her children Claire and Jamie are students. But she said it wasn’t enforced before Uvalde.
“When I would pick them up for appointments or something, you could just walk in the front door,” Hohman said.
Tacoma Public Schools told KIRO 7 it will be reminding staff this year that doors must be locked.
“We’re still in the process of upgrading systems, but those front doors are going to be locked,” McCarthy said, “and you’re going to have to either ring a doorbell or use a buzz in system or use that vestibule system at every school.”
It’s a fight Rigby said she isn’t giving up in Tahoma Public Schools.
“Now is the time to act,” she said. “We cannot afford to wait. If something were to happen, it would be devastating.”
Rigby started a petition called “Lock and Secure Tahoma Schools,” and in six days, it’s gathered more than 400 signatures. Tahoma Public Schools said a school security expert will be evaluating the district’s schools sometime in September.
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