Board members talk school safety

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February 27, 2018 - 12:00 AM

In light of the recent school massacre in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 students and staff members, the subject of campus security at USD 257 received solemn attention at Monday night’s school board meeting.
And while it wasn’t a formal topic of conversation according to the meeting’s agenda, district administrators and board members poured deliberate care into exploring the current strengths and vulnerabilities that mark the district’s facilities as they currently stand.
“This, right now, is on everybody’s mind,” said Superintendent of Schools Stacey Fager, who went on to remind the board of the crisis management plans in place district-wide.
Fager noted that all district school personnel are versed in ALICE training — an active-shooter protocol, whose name, an acronym, stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. He mentioned that the schools regularly practice lockdown drills, where students are taught how to avoid being seen through classroom windows and how best to remain silent in a crisis situation so as not to draw attention to themselves. The district practices evacuation drills as well, and has an arrangement to house students at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, should the facilities at the middle or high school pose a safety risk to its pupils (e.g., a gas leak or some other internal emergency).
The district is also on its way toward making sure that all of its classrooms are equipped with durable, effective door locks.
Fager feels confident, too, in the district’s ability to notify parents and guardians in the eventuality of a crisis. The district currently employs SchoolWay, a mobile-device application that allows the district to alert parents to emergency and non-emergency events alike, assuming these parents have downloaded the app to their phones.
And though he is loathe to use it too often — he doesn’t want parents to become inured to his calls — the district is equipped to issue wide-scale robocalls within minutes of an emergency.
The high school, confesses Fager, is perhaps the building most susceptible to intrusion. The visitor’s entrance opens not onto the school’s main office but, instead, onto the school’s common area, where students frequently gather. Additionally, the multi-building arrangement of IHS — which sees students constantly passing outdoors from one facility to another — further increases the peril in the case of an assailant.
A “single, self-contained, more centralized” building, in which a visitor’s first port of call is the main office — this, said Fager, is the nature of the modern school.
“And though we can’t change our facilities right now, on the fly,” continued Fager, “we can put common practices in place that make them as functional [in an emergency] as possible.” The superintendent did, however, pay his gratitude to members of the current facilities steering committee — a collection of citizens tasked with evaluating the worth of a potential school bond issue — for taking into consideration these extreme safety measures as they weigh the prospect of either building a new school(s) in the district or else renovating the current ones.
Finally, board member Jen Taylor was eloquent in her insistence that the district do whatever it takes to protect USD 257’s students from the sort of travesty visited upon Florida. She turned to the teachers and administrators sitting in the audience at Monday’s meeting. “What can we do better?” she asked. “What can we do? How can we help you?” She invited the district’s teachers to be bold in asking for assistance if they ever feel that their workspaces are ill-equipped for a crisis or if they ever feel that their classroom environment is unsafe. “We want to help you,” she said.

IN OTHER NEWS:
— The board approved a bump in driver’s education fees: from $129 to $140.
— Kindergarten principal Angie Linn, in her capacity as an Iola Reads member, briefed the school board on the upcoming Aeronautics Fair at Riverside Park, in Iola, on March 13. The fair runs from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m, and is open to the entire family.

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