A new year at Van Buren School District brings heightened security, particularly at elementary schools.

A newly implemented car tag system combined with soon to be installed magnetic locking doors at Van Buren’s six elementary schools means kids will be much safer, said Brian Summerhill, assistant superintendent with Van Buren School District.

"We know that the world’s changed from when we went to school," Summerhill said. "With events over the last few years, we needed to add an extra layer of security."

Board members approved $8,971 to spend on the magnetic locking door systems at their meeting Tuesday night, the first of which Summerhill said is currently being installed at Tate Elementary.

Visitors will have to buzz-in and be approved via the surveillance system to be allowed in the schools that will eventually be fitted with the doors, Summerhill said.

Also going into effect this year is a car tag system for all elementary schools. While some schools have had their own car tags in past years, this system includes all six schools, Summerhill said.

Each school is assigned its own color tag, with the names of the child and any siblings attending that school, Summerhill said. Parents or guardians hang the tags in a visible spot in their car so that teachers know they are authorized to pick up the child.

Parents are limited to two tags for each school and are responsible for keeping up with the tags and passing them to anyone authorized to pick up students, he said.

"We’re not saying they can’t pick up the child if they don’t have the tag; they are just going to have to come in to the office to be verified with the emergency call form," Summerhill said.

School officials are doing what they can to make kids safer, which is what parents expect when they drop their kids off for class, Summerhill said. But district officials also strive to make parents feel welcome, he said.

"That’s a hard line, to make it feel welcoming but to also maintain safety," Summerhill said. "Our responsibility is to make everyone’s child safe when they come to school."

All new measures are in addition to security already in place, including four school resource officers for the district and surveillance systems with at least 16 cameras at each school, he said.

School officials will continue to add to security over the next several years, with plans to enclose entryways and direct visitor flow through front offices currently under discussion, Summerhill said. He hopes parents will be patient as each step is taken toward safer schools, he said.

"I think everything we add in is going to be a good compliment to what we have already in place," Summerhill said. "Is it going to be perfect? Probably not, but we are learning more every year."