Bus riders get a break as a second entry door is unlocked in the morning

Fairmont+students+stream+through+one+of+the+Central+Unit+doors+after+exiting+their+buses.+Bus+riders+are+only+allowed+to+enter+the+building+through+the+two+doors+to+Central.

Photo: Gabe McLaughlin

Fairmont students stream through one of the Central Unit doors after exiting their buses. Bus riders are only allowed to enter the building through the two doors to Central.

If you’re still sleepy when your bus pulls up to Fairmont High School in the morning, you’re sure to wake up when faced with the crowd of students trying to get into the building at the same time. It’s like a massive elephant trying to squeeze through a doggie door.

OK, make that two doggie doors. That’s because the administration listened to student complaints and agreed that funneling all of the bus students through just Door 9 in Central Unit was a bit challenging. Door 8 to Central Unit is now open in the mornings as well.

This compromise has eased the congestion somewhat, while still allowing administrators to monitor who enters the building.

“Hopefully, students feel like we listen to them,” VonHandorf said. “We want what they want, which is a good place to go to school, and we don’t want to hassle students or make their lives miserable. So if there are things we can do differently, we want to do that.”

The whole issue began at the start of the school year when the administration, in an effort to improve security, began locking all of the doors to the high school in the morning, except for Door 1 (the main entrance), Door 9 (Central Unit, where the buses unload), and Door 23 (the Athletic Department entrance).

The new security measures were put in place to allow staff to monitor everyone coming into the building and to assure no one entering the school is a threat to student safety. It was a recommendation by those in law enforcement that Fairmont make some security changes.

“Their feeling and our feeling is that you need to limit access points,” VonHandorf said, noting that if police had their way, Fairmont’s security would be even tighter. “When you talk to the law enforcement experts, they are pretty passionate that they want only one door open.”

Given the size of Fairmont’s campus, district administrators didn’t think having only one entry point was practical.

“I think we are following best practices, which is what you want to do,” said VonHandorf. “You  listen to experts and try as best you can to follow those recommendations.”

The limited number of entry points to the building led to some grumbling from students as well as parents who drop off their children. With time, however, most seemed to either adjust or resign themselves to the new reality.

But the large amount of congestion around the single Central Unit entry door continued to vex many.

Early in the school year, English teacher Juliet MonBeck, whose room is located next to Door 9, noticed the morning congestion. “Students were crowded outside trying to get in in bad weather. It seems like the buses get here all at once,” MonBeck said.

Students, of course, also were concerned about the limited access for bus riders. Sophomore Mitchell Crosby seemed to long for the days when all of the doors that face the north parking lot remained unlocked until 8:30 a.m.

“There are way too many people for that area,” Crosby said. “They should have the West and East unit doors open, too.”

Crosby also expressed concern about single-door access in the event of severe weather or even a security concern in the parking lot. “I think it would pose more of a threat,” he said.

Although opening a second door for bus students is an improvement, MonBeck still has some concerns about safety.

“The line of students that are crowded outside trying to get in in bad weather and the pushing and shoving that sometimes goes on in the crowd could cause some hazards,” she said. “Also, students are bringing all that water in one place, which is kind of dangerous once you get past the carpet inside the door.”

VonHandorf said he recognizes the concerns. “I understand restricting access is an inconvenience for many students,” he said. However, he reiterated that a secure school is his top priority.

“Right now I think we have a good plan,” the principal said. “Certainly if some new research comes out that there is a better way to do it, we will definitely see if that is manageable here.”