The tragic death of 17 people in the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, FL has shined an ever-brighter light on safety measures, and the Board of Education assures the community that the safety of their schools are a critical priority every day. At Monday’s night BOE meeting, staff laid out what is done year-round to make sure everyone in the system is safe.
“I know that the tragedy that happened in Florida has really struck a nerve across the country, not just here,” said Superintendent Dr. Jody Barrow. “We don’t practice school safety just when there’s a horrific event, it’s all the time. I feel like we’ve made tremendous progress, but there’s more work to do, no question about that.
“I would say this, we all share in this responsibility in order to keep our children and our community safe.”
Barrow prefaced the presentation on school system protocol noting that not all facets are made public.
“We don’t want the bad guys knowing every single detail of our plan,” he said. “Know that up front, but we have what I think is a good, solid comprehensive plan.”
Dr. Ted Lombard, coordinator of safety for the school system, offered an in-depth look at what is done to keep everyone safe. From security cameras and access systems for entry in every school to limiting the number of keys to each school, they are being proactive. A 2018 upgrade includes backup power for the camera systems to ensure they are operational at all times.
The installation of active threat lockdown buttons are another key feature. Activation of the button alerts 911 and gives off a specific alarm. A Code Red drill to prepare every school runs once a semester.
“What happens is there’s a signal that goes directly to the 911 center,” said Lombard, adding that when the signal goes out, “The cavalry is coming.”
“They show up first and ask questions later,” said Barrow.
Additionally, the use of Room Verification Status Program (RSVP) software in classrooms allows teachers to report the status of their students to the front office and 911 in the event of a crisis. They are working on making that access mobile so that teachers would not have to be on a desktop computer should it be needed.
Lombard said they are actively working on developing a district safety team as part of ongoing effort to get each school involved in finding the best plan for them. He also discussed educating schools on the updated active threat procedures.
“It’s not just hunker down and hide in the classroom, but to run, hide, or fight. I’m going out and talking to schools about things you can do, instead of just being a victim. You can get out of there, you can fight back if you have to. It’s saying here are some things and some processes and making sure teachers understand they have the capability to make a decision that’s going to improve survivability of themselves and their kids,” he said. “We want to practice that and increase the realism in some of our exercises.”
Barrow recounted the pain in having to discuss emergency procedures with his daughter.
“There’s kind of a lump in a daddy’s throat to hear his 11-year-old daughter talk that way, but folks, our people are working to try to train our children to do what’s right to keep them safe,” he said. “The thing that we have to have your help with, and I say this as a plea to all of our students, our parents, our community at large, is if you see something, say something.”
As part of ongoing initiatives, they will focus on initiation of a “See Something, Say Something” program, along with security infrastructure in future building renovations, visitor management, vendor access, key control, classroom blockade resources, and training. Lockdown buttons, RSVP, and developing emergency plans for secondary locations are part of the process. They are coordinating locations for parent-student reunification, with a drill set for Crabapple Lane Elementary in May.
Board member Diane Basham stressed the importance of educating students on doing their part in keeping their schools safe through simple acts of vigilance.
“The kids need the buy-in to know you don’t prop doors open because look what could happen, and I think this is the time where everybody’s engaged,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, let’s get out there and say let’s get everybody on board and let’s move on this because I think we can do lots of things and do it quickly while we have a buy-in from the whole community .”
Uncomfortable as it may be to discuss, the school system is dedicated to doing the hard work to make our schools as safe as possible.
“What grieves me with an issue like this is we’ve somewhat lost our innocence, and we live in a world that is full of harm. It’s a situation where our school personnel are working diligently to ensure the safety of our young people. They’re our most precious asset,” Barrow said. “We’re going to continue to work and train and do the very best we can in making sure our children are safe. Just know that the safety of our children and staff is our number one concern always.”