H.S. admin implements measures to ease student safety concerns

MHS Principal Bobby Dodd (left) talks with Mason City Police Officer Scott Lyons (right) prior to the start of the school day.

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

Students’ fears about school safety are being addressed as administrators try to balance security and a welcoming atmosphere.

With the onset of the school year at Mason High School (MHS), staff have tightened many safety measures. In particular, they have focused on keeping doors secure, monitoring cameras more closely and having staff in the hallways. These are responses to recent occurrences of violence across the country, especially the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May of 2022.

Senior Bethel Jegol said that many MHS students are experiencing increased apprehension around school safety.

“Being at school can be a scary thing,” Jegol said. “In a way, we’re all kind of preparing for [potential threats]; we’re always on edge.”

MHS Assistant Principal Dan Distel said that one of the most significant safety issues is the multitude of doors and entry points in the school. The concern lies more with unauthorized individuals entering the building than with students leaving.

“[As] we look at events that have transpired in schools around the country, we are trying to be very conscious about paying attention to what entrances kids go in and out of most frequently because that’s where people can enter more easily,” Distel said.

While this change may provide slight inconveniences to students, most are understanding of its intentions. Senior Morgan Womack said that knowing the doors are being closely monitored has made her feel safer in the building.

“I can see why the door situation is a hazard and why we’re being more careful with it,” Womack said. “Safety is a big fear most kids have nowadays and it shouldn’t be that way.”

The MHS Safe Schools Tip Line is an anonymous reporting system where students, staff, parents and community members can submit safety concerns. Assistant Principal Brandon Rompies, who is also on the District Safety Team, said that the tip line is a place for students to connect with trusted adults in any capacity they may need.

“It’s a way for students to reach out if something doesn’t feel right, or if they see or hear something on social media,” Rompies said. “The warning signs before national tragedies are there, and we need to empower students to help us connect those dots.”

MHS also has an established campus staff, consisting of two school resource officers and four campus supervisors, who assist with overseeing the building on a daily basis.

The resource officers are expected to walk the halls, supervise spaces with high numbers of students and monitor the security cameras. They serve as first responders in case there was ever a situation that required law enforcement. Womack said that even though she does not interact with them often, having the officers in the building provides her a sense of reassurance.

“It’s nice to know that there are police officers in case something does happen,” Womack said. “They’re just a nice comfort.”

Tracy Zimmaro, one of the four supervisors, monitors the halls, checks doors to make sure they are locked and goes into bathrooms to make sure students are staying safe. Zimmaro said that while the campus staff has always focused on monitoring the hallways, this year, the school’s goal is that “at any given time, there [should be] someone walking the halls.”

While Zimmaro’s main responsibility lies in keeping the school safe, she also understands the importance of students feeling comfortable with adults in the building.

“I want to make sure that I seem approachable, and that if you see me in the hall, you can come to me with anything,” Zimmaro said. “I want students to know that I’m someone they can rely on.”

In addition to tighter supervision of the hallways, students are required to eat lunch in areas under staff supervision.  There has been a recent increase in students using DoorDash, an online food delivery system, so the administration has tried to keep this option open but also ensure its safety. Rompies said that orders can now only be made during lunch hours and must be dropped off to the Natatorium entrance.

While the regulation of DoorDash is just one example, the task of maintaining a balance between comfort and security throughout the entire school is more complicated. Distel said that increasing security measures sometimes takes away from an effective learning environment.

“We are always looking to do better without making the school feel like a prison,” Distel said. “That’s the line we’re always trying to walk; we want schools to be both safe and welcoming to our students and people from the outside community who want to come in.”

Womack said she has felt the impact of these new protocols in many ways. While the changes have limited some options, they have also improved safety — and awareness of its importance — within the high school.

“I think it’s good that the school is trying to be more cautious by putting in more safety measures to make sure that it’s a safe place for students, especially with everything going on right now,” Womack said.

Although safety implementations are constantly evolving, Jegol said that there is a sense of reassurance in knowing that the school is proactively making plans to extend safety further.

“I still think students are scared, but putting in all these measures [has] been a plus,” Jegol said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Photo by Aimee Liu