Educators say the safety of all students is paramount and preparation is an ongoing process. Lockdown drills, surveillance cameras, key card systems and accurate parental information are just a few of the tools used to ensure a safe school year.
It’s typically the last thing running through parents’ minds as they send their children on their way to the first day of school each year — will my child be safe?
Educators say the safety of all students is paramount, and preparation is an ongoing process.
Lockdown drills, surveillance cameras, key card systems and accurate parental information are just a few of the tools used to ensure a safe school year.
“I think it’s one of the hardest balances schools strive to achieve — giving the impression of openness and at the same time providing security. The more security you provide, the less welcoming you end up looking,” said William Silver, superintendent of Killingly Schools in Killingly, Conn.
Killingly, one of many schools across the country to re-evaluate security measures in the wake of the Columbine shooting in 1999, uses a computerized visitor management system. It includes special passes, complete with photo, issued to visitors who must present proper identification and have a reason to be in the school.
There have been few local instances of school violence on any level, and Silver said these acts typically are committed by somebody welcome at the school.
So, he said, the real key to providing safety is education and communication with staff and students.
“Part of that is kids trusting the adults they are with — so they are willing to go to a guidance counselor, teacher or parent to share any information,” Silver said.
Dawn Hooper, mother of two daughters and president of the PTO at Greeneville Elementary School in Norwich, Conn., said her familiarity with school staff, especially those at the front office, helped alleviate her concerns.
“They are our generals,” she said. “You have to go to the door and use the buzzer. You tell them who you are. They see you on the screen. If you don’t go directly to the office, they will find you. If they don’t know who you are, they will not let you in the building or they will walk you out. I feel very secure with my daughter.”
Last year the PTO was instrumental in implementing the extra step of providing identification tags for all teachers and volunteers at Greeneville.
At the elementary and intermediate school levels, it mostly falls on staff to keep a handle on the comings and goings of students and adults alike. Norwich schools were among others to take advantage of $10 million in state funds distributed over two years by the state Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Public Safety and Education. Much of the money went to pay for cameras and key card systems.
Norwich School Superintendent Pamela Aubin said accurate information about students and their contact information is one of the keys for staff dealing with such issues as custodial agreements.
“That’s a day-to-day issue at the school,” she said “That’s much more prevalent then intruders.”
It’s a little more difficult to manage an open campus such as Norwich Free Academy, where a 12-person safety department keeps tabs on students and visitors.
“We try to be a proactive presence, investigating issues that might create a safety problem,” said Campus Safety Director Al Fecteau, a retired Norwich police captain.
Fecteau said each classroom contains an alert button allowing staff to notify security of an issue.
Safety personnel also patrol the grounds in golf carts.
The biggest change in recent years, especially post-Columbine, is vigilance to anything that may be considered a threat. Talk that used to be brushed off is now thoroughly investigated — from spoken words to messages scrawled on a bathroom stall.
Tips for keeping children safe
Suggestions for parents to make their children's schools more secure:
- Ask a child to evaluate the safety of his or her school.
- Identify whether students have many methods to report safety concerns.
- Examine how easily people can enter schools.
- Check out whether a school has clear, thorough emergency preparedness plans.
- Determine if a school has a school safety team or committee for planning.
- Ask school administrators whether they use outside security specialists to help come up with safety plans.
- Look into whether school emergency plans are frequently and completely tested.
- Determine whether all school employees are trained for emergencies.
- Honestly evaluate whether you, as a parent, are doing your part in making schools safe. Have you joined your school’s safety committee?