Making Today Count: School Safety Planning
The voice of children is powerful, and offers insightful feedback on the topic du jour. They provide fresh ideas, meaningful perspectives, and candid thoughts. They are often the quiet voice of reason… and their words resonate with my soul. Thus, in discussion with both of our secondary principals, Mr. Dave Rilatt (Manheim Township High School) and Mrs. Karen Evans (Manheim Township Middle School), we decided to facilitate “Open Student Safety Forums” for interested students. Designated times during the day were offered to our high school Student Government leaders, middle school Student Council members, and any other interested students. The goal of the forum was to elicit open student discussion about topics related to school safety. Specifically, students were told that the purpose of the forum was “to provide students with an opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas relating to safety at the high school/middle school.” We had a series of questions to promote student discussion, but not all questions were covered since students enthusiastically continued the discussion on only several of the presented questions.
In general, students shared that they felt safe in their schools. They know we have procedures in place to address emergencies, such as intruders or other hazards. Students acknowledged the safety trainings that occur throughout the school year, and some noted that their teachers have offered specific ideas for addressing safety in their classrooms in the event of an emergency. They were honest in their comments, and some challenged our thinking about areas to improve for overall safety. Students also offered ideas for how to prevent or decrease student-posed threats, and discussion focused on the steps to follow if someone sees or hears about a threat. In some of the student groups we discussed the challenges of social media, and the unfortunate ease by which a threat can be posted on certain sites (ex. Snapchat); after a short period of time the message/image often becomes inaccessible. We discussed the need to be alert and vigilant about safety. In other words, “If you see or hear something, say something.” We were pleased with the openness of our students’ responses, and the number of students who chose to speak with us. Safety will always be our #1 responsibility, our top priority.
Shortly after the tragic events that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, we sent home a letter to all families about our school safety measures. As much as possible, we wanted to assure everyone about the depth of our safety planning. In the letter we shared that prior to these recent incidents of violence in the nation’s schools, a select team of elementary, intermediate, and secondary level administrators attended an intensive hands-on training to prepare for an active shooter situation. This training program focused on specific safety behaviors designed to teach skills and strategies that bridge the gap between the times a violent event begins and law enforcement arrives. We have currently implemented a professional development plan for this active shooter training for staff and students throughout the district, in addition to our other regular monthly safety drills.
Ongoing reviews of our operations, facilities, and safety and security measures continuously occur, and are often discussed during monthly Safety Committee Meetings involving school and district administrators and staff, and members of the Manheim Township Police, Manheim Township Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
All of our Manheim Township schools have a safety and security plan, with evacuation and parent reunification procedures in the event of an emergency. For safety reasons, we are unable to make the safety plan and evacuation procedures public in order to keep the protocols confidential. As shared in the letter, we will continue to promote safety and security in all of our schools and campuses, maintaining a close, positive working relationship with the Manheim Township Police Department.
We encourage you to have conversations at home as well regarding safety at school and other locations. As a community, it is imperative that we work together to ensure the well-being and safety of everyone. And in Manheim Township, we are all one family – the community and the school district are naturally intertwined.