Newberry High School started the school year with a range of new security features, including a new fence around the perimeter, access control locks and restricted points of entry.
The changes are part of Alachua County Public Schools’ ongoing efforts to make the district’s schools more secure. The NHS security improvements cost $225,000-$250,000 and were funded by the same grant that paid for similar changes at Gainesville High School and Buchholz High School, according to Jackie Johnson, the district’s communications director.
Responses to a Facebook post about the new fence ranged from gratitude to skepticism about the barrier’s effectiveness, in addition to complaints that it makes the school look like a prison and would trap students inside in case of an emergency.
One commenter, Barbara Walker Williams, expressed concern about how a parent would get in the school during the day, and the institutional look.
“Yikes! My kids said it looks like a prison; they weren’t kidding,” Williams said.
Other commenters said they were sad the fence was necessary but praised the school district for putting in the work to protect students.
“What I see is a nice barrier protecting the beautiful children, and the faithful teachers and other personnel that serve the children,” Mike Cates wrote. “Rather than project a negative attitude, appreciate the administration that takes the initiative to protect your children while they are under their care.”
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who is also a teacher, said the district did not communicate with the town before putting up the fence. He said that while he wishes the fence looked less industrial and institutional, Newberry prioritizes the safety of the students.
“At the end of the day, if the experts believe that that’s what we need to keep our kids safe, then Newberry will adapt, overcome and do what we have to do,” Marlowe said.
Johnson said the district is not responding to any specific incident or initiative, but it is working to improve security at every school. Newberry High School was the last of the three schools on the grant application, but funding can come from other places and revitalization projects across the district are also designed with increased safety measures in mind.
“We’ve been doing this for years, we will continue doing this for years,” Johnson said in a phone call.
Douglas Pelton, the district’s security chief, and school board members Tina Certain, Leanetta McNealy and Diyonne McGraw could not be reached for comment.