District reviewing measures, planning upgrades and changes to make schools even safer
By Dr. Chad Higgins
The safety of our students and staff members is our highest priority. This is a topic routinely discussed among staff members, but conversations have increased significantly during the past several weeks. I have been able to meet with building and district administrators, my Superintendent Student Advisory Team, the Maize Board of Education, and individual students. I have collected feedback from teachers and parents throughout the district and hope to continue the dialogue indefinitely. This input has helped us to better understand the concerns and potential solutions that exist. Below is our current status regarding school safety. It is important to know that, for a variety of reasons, we cannot -- and in some cases, should not -- implement every recommendation we have received. We value the feedback and discussion taking place in our community but realize that not all ideas will be logistically or financially possible, while others may not move us in the direction we need to go for school safety.
Current Practice: In 2016, Maize USD 266 organized a school safety committee in order to review and update crisis preparedness plans. This group was led by Richard Bell, now Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Operations. The outcome of this work included the following regarding the minimum training and drills at each school building:
- Fire – A minimum of 10 each school year.
- Fire/off-site evacuation – A minimum of two each school year, with varied conditions.
- Weather-related emergency – A minimum of three each school year.
- Lockdown or modified lockdown – A minimum of once each school year.
- Active shooter – Staff members and students are trained in the Intruderology, “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol. Drills occur as follows:
- Elementary schools – Once in August and January.
- Secondary (middle and high schools) – Once in August and in each new term or semester class.
In order to address the need for teachers to be able to quickly lock classroom doors in the event of a lockdown without having to search for keys, the district purchased special magnets last summer . This allows teachers to have students and staff members access classrooms throughout the normal school day but quickly respond to any potential crisis if necessary. There are some cases throughout the district where these magnets are not functioning properly due to their size or other issue. We are working to provide a remedy to these issues as we are made aware of the specific cases.
All school buildings have secure vestibules, which require staff member permission for any visitor -- including students and parents -- to access the building once school has started. To improve safety, we are preparing to update and strengthen the required protocol to allow visitor access via the secure vestibule at our front office doors. The district is evaluating the potential use of a visitor management system that is being used in other districts. This system would require all visitors to be screened prior to accessing the building. It would require anyone who needs to enter a school building to provide office staff members with identification and the purpose for visiting prior to entering the school. While this may create a delay or inconvenience for staff members and parents, we believe it is an important additional step to take.
The district is equipping each school building to allow office personnel the use of television monitors and external cameras to observe activity outside of each building entrance.
Concerns/Improvements: It is clear from student and staff member feedback that a greater focus on training and practice of crisis situations needs to be addressed.
- Additional training will take place this spring, and both building and district administrators will help organize and coordinate these efforts.
- School administrators will establish a training and drill log accessible by district administrators to ensure and help facilitate the necessary preparedness.
- For better practice and preparedness, drills will be conducted during times of the day when students are gathered in commons areas, such as lunch, or gathered for events.
- We need an improved process to better inform and educate substitute teachers in district crisis procedures. Currently, each new substitute teacher is provided an overview of the classroom crisis folder, and basic training is provided at the beginning of each school year.
- We are seeking a modification in state legislation that would allow greater flexibility in the types and frequency of emergency preparedness drills required by the state. This would promote more frequent practice of lockdown and intruder drills in our schools.
- School Site Council members and external crisis experts will be invited to observe drills and consult as needed.
In two of our elementary schools, we have heard about concerns related to the accessibility of buildings during Latchkey programs. Those school administrators and YMCA staff members are working together to improve security and are communicating those steps to parents and guardians.
Staff members and students have expressed numerous concerns about the frequency in which the back doors of high schools are propped open or used inappropriately. Students acknowledged their own responsibility in a solution to this problem. Building principals are working with staff members and students to identify the specific locations and individuals at each building where this problem exists. The district may implement more punitive measures to reduce the frequency of this problem. Staff members will be asked to monitor exterior doors in the vicinity of their classrooms.
The district is purchasing dedicated crisis radios for each building that will allow for improved, efficient coordination between schools in the event of a school or campus crisis situation.
We plan an increased promotion of our Speak Up! system and regular reminders to our entire school community to “say something” if they “see something” to help mitigate the potential for violent events.
Additional considerations: The district is evaluating additional devices that could be installed that quickly would help secure and fortify each classroom in a lockdown situation.
The district is considering a number of other potential policy and practice changes, including:
- School building accessibility before and after school hours.
- SafeDefend, a program that would equip classrooms with a emergency notification system and basic defense/survival equipment.
- An automated, subscription-based alert system
- Limiting the size and type of bags allowed to be carried in schools.
- Additional School Resource Officers.
- Requiring all staff members and students to wear current district or school identification.
Upcoming survey: Please know we currently are planning an upcoming community dialogue regarding school safety via our Thought Exchange, the platform we used in December to conduct our strategic planning survey. We look forward to your additional feedback and ideas using this method.
Thank you for your continued commitment to safety at Maize USD 266.
Dr. Chad Higgins
Superintendent of Schools
Maize USD 266