Community gathers to discuss school emergency plans
Feb 20, 2013 (Bigfork Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to planning for emergencies such as the shooting in Newtown, Conn. and opinions differ on what approach to take.
In order to hear the community's thoughts, opinions and comments on the topic, the Lakeside-Somers School District Board of Trustees held a public forum on Feb. 12 at Lakeside Elementary School.
Part of the conflict in planning for emergencies is that schools want to retain an open and welcoming environment for students and visitors while also establishing a safe environment and preventing potential threats.
"Newtown was better secured than any school in Montana but it still happened," Superintendent Paul Jenkins said. "There is a saying, 'There is always a better mouse trap.' We can still look to improve."
Cutting down staff response time to emergencies was a major factor in the discussion. Each proposal was intended to limit the time it takes for the faculty to respond to emergencies.
"All these incidents start and end in three to five minutes, and response time for the sheriff could be from five to 40 minutes," Jenkins said. "That is just the reality of it."
Classroom locks were just one factor for the district since all of the doors lock from the outside. Jenkins said the faculty figured out that attaching Velcro cubes to the doorframe would keep the doors slightly open and if they ever needed to lock the door they would just need to remove the Velcro cube.
Other topics didn't have a clear answer, such as: Should the students run away or remain hidden inside the building during an emergency
Schools across the county have been working with Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry and Deputy Sheriff Travis Bruyer to figure out what approach to take, and Jenkins has attended two meetings on the topic so far. Jenkins presented some of the possible changes the district could make, including:
--Simple color-coded signs to communicate which rooms are secure and which are in need of help.
--Signs at the entrances and throughout the building to remind visitors to check in.
--Requiring all visitors to have badges and training students to redirect visitors to the front desk if they don't have a visitor's badge.
--School site maps for the sheriff's department to know the layout of every building.
--Classroom windows and room numbers that correspond with phone extension numbers.
--Evacuation sites for students to meet at for drills and emergencies.
--Numbering the exits for emergency response to have as reference.
--Reviewing and revising the emergency procedures manual each year and recording the drills so staff can give feedback for improvements.
--Installing updated video surveillance and a door buzzer for the entrances.
--Emergency drills during random times of the day.
--Installing cement barrier posts in front of the entrance, similar to storefronts.
--Creating a common language for emergencies that substitute teachers and visitors can understand.
--Establish a district philosophy such as allowing visitor access to classrooms openly or by appointment or even having a Student Resource Officer similar to Flathead High School.
--Establishing a "no humor zone" approach to behavior such as pointing imaginary guns and pretending to shoot others.
Each change would impact faculty and students, but getting young children to learn new rules when the concept of a school shooting may not be one they understand became a different issue in itself.
"How do you train the little ones not to let someone in " Jenkins asked. "I'm not sure what the answer is to that."
One of the parents in attendance who asked to remain anonymous had concerns about communicating emergency situations with students while in the restroom. LES Principal John Thies said this occurred during one of their drills earlier this winter. The student was placed in the nearest classroom with notes on each room's door, one saying they have an extra student and the other saying a student was out.
Other parents in attendance said they were surprised some of these procedures weren't already in place. Sarah Dickerson spoke in favor of establishing a system for checking in and visitor's badges.
"There are very few people here considering this is a serious issue," Dickerson said. "We need to get people to understand that things are in motion."
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