Ritta Elementary Security

A front door security system was installed this weekend at an East Knox County elementary school after the News Sentinel reported a set of Christmas bells provided the only warning of visitors to the building.

School Board member Mike McMillan confirmed today that workers on Saturday installed an airphone security system on the front door of Ritta Elementary.


“I think it was the direct result of the publicity generated on (the security-by-bells system),” McMillan said.

The News Sentinel on Friday published a story and photograph documenting the lack of a security system on the entrance at Ritta. Instead, administrators, who had already had asked for an airphone system in the wake of a mass murder at a Connecticut school earlier this year, attached a set of large Christmas bells on an inner door to alert staff in the nearby office that someone had walked inside.

A reporter visited the school at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday and found the doors unlocked and the bells in place. The reporter was able to walk in unimpeded and pass the office without notice.


A spokeswoman for School Superintendent Jim McIntyre has not yet responded to a request for information on what prompted the installation of the airphone system, who installed it and how much it cost.


An airphone system is essentially an intercom type system in which a visitor pushes a button and speaks into an intercom. A camera is mounted to capture an image of the visitor. The office staff is able to view via a monitor that image and speak through the intercom to that person before unlocking the door.

School security has been a topic of debate since the News Sentinel revealed an audit showing all manner of problems with newly installed equipment at two schools and ties between the installer and the schools security chief, who has since been placed on paid leave pending a probe.

The Board of Education meets this evening to discuss a proposal by Public Building Authority Director Dale Smith and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to do a quick spot-check of security at a half dozen schools with no input from the school system and use of an independent firm with no contracts for current or future work.