ISSUES OF SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY
The last two weeks have brought quite a bit of attention to emergency responses and school safety issues. National attention was focused on the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Locally, some air quality issues surfaced at our neighbor, Paynesville. Although completely different issues, both challenge school attentiveness to emergency response.
We have been deeply saddened to hear and observe the overwhelming news of the recent school shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Our thoughts have certainly been with the members of that school and community and we have extended our deepest sympathies to that school. Events like this are difficult for all of us to understand.
We also extend our support to the Paynesville School and community as they have faced an air quality issue and emergency closing of their school district. We are glad to hear that the situation in Paynesville, though serious, did not end with tragedy.
As we continue to hear about the situations around us, we want to take time to reassure our communities that the safety of our students is always a priority in the ROCORI school district. We take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety of our students every day.
There are many different layers and elements to a safe learning environment. The most obvious is physical safety—making sure that our buildings and facilities are as safe as possible. In addition, there are concerns about social and emotional safety. As we continue to learn and address, there are many different concerns and ways to address these issues.
Our school district is committed to maintaining a safe learning environment for all students. ROCORI staff members work hard to address both physical and social issues in order to provide safety and security.
STEPS WE TAKE
We seek to accomplish student security through a combination of efforts including:
· a requirement that all visitors sign in when entering school buildings and are identified appropriately
· plans in place at each of our schools and sites to handle emergency situations
· regular review of our district emergency response plans and procedures through discussions and emergency exercises
· regular practice of emergency procedures with students and staff including such steps as mandated lockdown drills, fire drills, evacuation procedures, and other drills
· an ongoing partnership with local law enforcement and fire departments including a great working relationship with the Cold Spring-Richmond Police Department
· planned action steps in the event that any type of emergency crisis occurs in our schools including an armed intruder
There are many more efforts to emergency response and planning. We have Health and Safety meetings at each of our buildings on a regular basis. We have safety consultants come through our facilities regularly. We adjust to feedback offered by students, staff, parents, and others. As noted, we take the issue of student, staff, and community safety very seriously.
EVALUATION OF ROCORI CONDITIONS
Although we have a regular review of our policies, procedures and processes, situations like those of the past few weeks encourage us to re-examine what we do and to review our conditions.
We have received a number of questions and much feedback following the recent events. Issues such as access to the elementary sites, review of procedures, and reminders to consistently follow our expectations have unfolded. At the last school board meeting, we had some discussion about the status of the district. We will continue that conversation as school resumes in January.
In the interim, we are examining several of the issues. We are researching what would be needed to improve security at the three elementary sites. We are looking into modifications of our processes and procedures at the District Education Facility. We are looking at issues that compromise security including things like the wearing of identification badges and the frequency of opening doors that are expected to be secure.
We will continue to look at our system to help determine what additional steps we might take. Some of them can be addressed more quickly than others, but we will be diligent in examining our processes.
While no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy such as the recent incidents will not occur, we are doing everything we know to keep students and staff safe while at school.
It is equally important for us to work with staff to help ensure we are prepared to support our students in difficult times. Part of this is the practice of emergency procedures. Part of this is simply having and working on relationships with students. In addition, our counseling and support staff offers tremendous assistance and direction.
We try to incorporate resources as much as possible in addressing emergency or serious situations. Our neighboring districts often support each other with quality information and resources. Professional organizations offer ideas, insight, training, and other support.
Different situations will often require different types of responses. Sometimes we simply need to make people aware of what has occurred. Sometimes it is a matter of allowing opportunities to talk and share. Sometimes it is simply being available and attentive to issues, changes or behaviors. Our staff members work hard to provide appropriate and proper responses to situations as they unfold.
One of the most important elements in almost any emergency situation is parental response. We have learned, through our own and other situations, that it is critically important for parents to spend time talking with students and children to help them cope with these situations.
When possible, we try to provide some ideas and resources to help parents in conversations with students. But more than anything, it is simply being available to students, to talk with them openly and honestly about things going on, and reassure them through the situation.
Again we extend our support to the Newtown, Connecticut, community. The sheer scope and magnitude of the situation there is unfathomable. We recognize that all schools lose a piece of their innocence when events like this occur.
Our neighbor, Paynesville, is also supported in their difficult situation. Uncertainties in issues like air quality and related systems are sometimes challenging because questions will always remain. We trust that permanent answers will be determined.
We are always open to ideas, thoughts, and concerns. Anyone with questions or concerns, should please feel free to contact the district office or begin the conversation with one of our building principals.