North Carolina School Districts Make Changes in School Safety

Their job is to protect students. Each works to help students feel safe in school. Since December, when 20 students, ages six and seven, and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, their jobs have taken on new meaning.

 We used to think elementary schools were off limits,” said Sammy McNeill, chief of police for Moore County Schools in North Carolina. “Knowing the kids were defenseless caused me to take a very in-depth look, not just a stare, at elementary schools. In the past, we’ve taken a harder look at high schools.”

 Henry Smith, risk manager for Cumberland County Schools in North Carolina, echoed that sentiment. He said changes have been made at the district’s 53 elementary schools.

 Are we 100% bulletproof?  I don’t think anyone is,” Smith said. “You’ve got to do a good job at stopping things and preventing things.”

 To better protect their schools, Smith and McNeill have implemented numerous changes to enhance school security, particularly in elementary schools.

 In January, Smith said, his district began using security cameras, intercoms, and buzzers at double-door entrances at the elementary schools. Visitors speak through an intercom to a staff member, identifying themselves and where they are from. A staff member hits the buzzer to allow  visitors to enter. The door then locks. Each school also has a monitor at the front desk, and the front office has a panic button wired to a security company.

 “The double doors have magnetized door locks. We can press a button to open them or have them stay locked and have them lock back.” In addition, he said, the district has asked teachers to keep classroom doors locked during the day.

 Smith said that once visitors are inside the building they sign in and get a visitor’s badge, a procedure that was already in place.

“We’ve had an overwhelming positive response from parents and visitors. We are going over and beyond the call of duty,” he said.

 In Moore County, McNeill said, his police force has focused on response time to the school’s 12 elementary schools and two primary schools since the Connecticut shooting. “As law enforcement officers, we know things can slow down people getting in, but can the police get there in time?”

 To remedy that problem, he said, “We have tried to figure out the response time to each elementary school. I listed all of the elementary schools and then mapped out the distance to the municipality and how far away they are from the police. Then I prioritized. The ones that were the farthest away, that’s where I put officers first, one per school.”

For example, he said, in Aberdeen, NC, one school is near a police department, “so we can get there in two minutes.”  In other schools, he noted, “It takes 10-15 minutes. We are in the process of putting more officers in the elementary schools, especially in rural areas.”

 McNeil pointed out that since the Sandy Hook massacre, people have been paying more attention to what schools are doing to secure schools.  “We’ve gotten phone calls, people asking what are we doing to make schools secure,” he said. “I hire officers who want to be school officers. They are trained to be school officers, to handle any kind of emergency on school grounds.”

 Both men said their middle and high schools have security plans in force. Some high schools in Moore County, McNeill said, have several security officers. Smith said that while his district is focusing on elementary schools at this time, “other security enhancements are coming down the road” for all schools.

 With the changes being made now and in the future, both men feel confident they are protecting students, helping them feel safe to learn.

If you would like your school district’s efforts to increase safety to be featured in a future article, please contact smcarthur at schoolrisk dot org

Helping Combat Bullying in Different Ways

Like a puzzle in which every piece works to make a complete entity, people are working individually and collectively to create positive school climates so that no child has to fear being bullied or mistreated. Several people who are working to curtail bullying in different ways came together recently at a conference sponsored by a special initiative of the University of Georgia that focuses on bullying.

UGA’s Safe and Welcoming Schools, which sponsored the second annual conference, aims to enhance knowledge and understanding of practices that contribute to a positive school climate through outreach, engagement and research, according to its website.  Led by Dr. Katherine Raczynski, the  director of Safe and Welcoming Schools, the conference focused on “Using Free and Low-Cost Resources to Prevent and Respond to Bullying” at UGA’s Gwinnett Center in Lawrenceville in metro Atlanta.  The conference featured researchers and practitioners from the fields of education, counseling, law and public health, who provided information on using resources including websites, videos, books and surveys.  Participants took part in hands-on demonstrations of how to use each resource. They also received a flash drive of the resources to use in their own bullying prevention and intervention efforts.

In addition to holding a conference each year, Safe and Welcoming Schools also collaborates with schools and community members to prevent bullying and mistreatment and to foster positive school climates. According to the project’s website, faculty members who have expertise in adolescent development, school climate, school engagement and bullying prevention provide continuing education to raise awareness of bullying and how to prevent it. Safe and Welcoming Schools also partners in the adoption of evidence-based practices related to improving school climate, and it provides technical assistance, such as support with measuring the extent of bullying in schools and in the community.

One person who attended the UGA conference is helping to curb bullying through personal experience. As a teenager, Sumi Mukherjee was a victim of bullying. In his book, A Life Interrupted: The Story of My Battle with Bullying and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Mukherjee tells his experiences with long-term bullying and how it led to the development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when he was sixteen. Since publishing his book in 2011, Mukherjee has spoken about bullying prevention to hundreds of people throughout the country, focusing on its long-term psychological effects. His father, Bimal Mukherjee, retired and now works with his son to present his message to parents, teachers, school social workers and mental health staff. Although Mukherjee wasn’t one of the presenters at the conference, he talked about his experiences and his book at lunch.

Another individual who is working to curtail bullying and who spoke at the conference is Emily Bazelon, the author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. Published in February, her book explores different facets of bullying through the stories of three young people who were bullied. It also tells about schools that have reduced bullying and examines their successful strategies. In a telephone interview, both Mukherjee and his father said they appreciated Ms. Bazelon’s discussion about the long-term psychological effects of bullying.

“A lot of good information came out at the conference,” Mukherjee said. “People acknowledged that we won’t stop bullying, but if we can all do a little, we can do a lot.”

If you would like your school district’s efforts to stop bullying to be featured in a future article, please contact smcarthur at schoolrisk dot org

Natural Disasters and Other Tragedies Underscore the Need for Comprehensive Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Response Plans for Public Schools

Administrators and principals recognize the importance of developing, maintaining and employing comprehensive emergency preparedness and crisis response plans for their schools. One school official recently commented to PSRI, “It is our goal and responsibility to create and maintain school environments that are safe and advantageous to learning and teaching.” This school official indicated that their school district continues to invest resources and staff to ensure their emergency preparedness and crisis response plan is all-encompassing and addresses the hazards identified within their schools and the surrounding communities.

The lasting effects of Superstorm Sandy and other recent national disasters, along with the tragic violent events that periodically occur in schools across the nation, validate the ongoing importance for public school districts to work closely with their local emergency management officials and to have well-rehearsed plans in place for a variety of crises. However, nearly all emergency management officials agree that schools should tailor their plans to meet the unique needs of the school and the community in which it is located. These officials also agree that the quality of the plan is related to the extent to which all stakeholders in the school community are involved in the development and review of these plans, have a defined role within the plan and are involved at the district planning level.

Having a crisis management plan is mandated and required under The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The Act requires that local school systems receiving federal funding under Title IV, Part A, Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities must provide assurance that they have a crisis management plan in place to respond to crisis and emergency situations on school grounds (20 U.S.C. 7114).

School officials have several resources, guidelines and training materials available to them when writing and/or updating school emergency preparedness and crisis plans. One recommended resource is a publication called Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities.  This practical guide is published by the U.S. Department of Education and The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools and can be downloaded online here.  Here are a few other resources that can assist school districts in developing or updating school emergency preparedness and crisis response plans:

www.fema.gov/

www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/index.shtm

http://www.ready.gov/school-emergency-plans

http://training.fema.gov/emiweb/emischool/

Why in the World Would I Want to Start Blogging About School Risk Management? – Jeff Marshall

An important question to ask ourselves. An important discussion to have. What makes school risk management such an important field? Why should we spread the word about these things?

“School districts measure success and failure by high school graduation rates.  As a risk manager, I firmly believe that we lose our students long before they enter that final phase of primary education.”

Check out Jeff Marshall’s blog for the full post

“ADAAA and the Interactive Process” by Marlon Robbins

“Twenty-two years since enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the “Interactive Process” is still foreign to many employers.    Yet, failure to engage in the Interactive Process is one of the most significant liabilities to employers when making decisions concerning employees and job applicants (referred to as “individuals”) with disabilities.  Evolution of the ADA through case law and rulemaking has increased awareness of the Interactive Process, yet there is also substantial uncertainty about its management and conduct.  Little has actually been written about it.  Adding to this uncertainty is enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). …”

Read the full story on Marlon’s blog and learn about the 4 things employers need to be aware of with the ADAAA.

Introducing…

The SchoolRisk Blogger Alliance is a dynamic forum where school risk officials can post articles, web content, and videos, while responding to each other’s posts. Contributors have their own personal blogs and will collectively establish standards of content, etc. All this is in the hopes of creating a dialogue about best practices, success (or failure) stories, and ideas about how to improve the safety and general welfare of public schools. We hope that with continued in depth discussion new solutions will emerge as well as new issues.

This Alliance is hosted by the Public School Risk Institute, based in Athens, GA. For information on how PSRI is helping make our schools safer, visit…
www.schoolrisk.org

To browse articles and contributor bios, check out the Archives and Contributors pages.

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