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IN THE KNOW: A commitment to school safety

Julie Critz

Student safety is a top priority in Alexandria Public Schools. Recent events in the national media remind us of the importance of that focus and give us cause to reflect on our preventative and responsive practices. This week's column provides a timely opportunity to share with you a broad overview of safety and security precautions and procedures the district has implemented to help keep students and staff safe.

Security measures relating to access into the building during the school day

Prior to the start of the school day, doors are open for students when they arrive and supervision of students is provided, and/or staff are interacting with students and parents, or staff are present in hallways and other building areas. Once the school day begins, all of our exterior doors are locked. Access for visitors and late-arriving students is permitted only through the main entrance, where school personnel must buzz and sign them in.

All buildings have lockdown buttons. When utilized these lockdown buttons lock all exterior doors, close and lock all fire doors, make an announcement, take over the digital signs, and notify Law Enforcement of our need for help.

Security cameras

We have increased the number of security cameras, with over 200 cameras installed throughout our eight buildings. These cameras cover entrances, main hallways, locker bays, parking lots, and playgrounds. These cameras are not monitored continually but do provide important video footage of activity within and outside the school environment.

Practice drills and training

Each school has a school safety plan written specifically for that building, and the plan is reviewed and revised, as needed, every year. We train staff at each location to respond in a timely and effective manner in an emergency or crisis situation to provide a calm, confident and safe environment for the students.

Students and staff members conduct regular drills on a variety of safety procedures, including natural disasters, fires and those related to intruders at schools.

E-911 services

Our phone system has been upgraded to support E-911 services. When you dial 911 from a school, E-911 services allows the 911 operator to know what classroom or location you are calling from in the school building. This enables emergency personnel to know where the caller is located and provide assistance.

Training

We have undertaken training and studying of best practices provided to us by the School Safety Center, Homeland Security and Emergency Management division, under the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Emergency Operation Plan

We have a comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan put in place districtwide. We collaborate with local law enforcement and emergency response agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of the EOP and related policies. The plan addresses emergency preparedness and response to fire, bomb threats, threats with weapons, demonstrations, natural disaster/severe weather, utility emergency, hazardous material accident, and national emergency situations.

School Resource Officers

In partnership with the Alexandria Police Department, we have a School Resource Officer at Discovery Middle School and Alexandria Area High School. It is typical for a district our size to have School Resource Officers. School Resource Officers have all the same training and authority as any other police officer, but have also attended specialized training for the SRO position. The main role of an SRO is to be visible in the building and to make connections with students. It's about prevention and relationship building. An SRO works with school administrators and teachers to make the environment safe and welcoming for all students and staff.

Communication

Communication is critical in an emergency and your cooperation is equally important and necessary. During an emergency, information will be distributed through phone/email/text utilizing our rapid notification system (Blackboard Connect), the school district website, and local media partners. If necessary, parents/guardians will be contacted directly by phone. It is very important that all emergency contact information be current. Parents/guardians are asked to review this information each year as part of back to school processes. It can also be updated throughout the year by contacting the school directly. Parents should not attempt to contact the school, as the phone lines will be in use by the school district to coordinate emergency services.

In closing, rest assured Alexandria Public Schools is committed to taking proactive measures to protect the safety of all our students and staff members. If you have any questions about your school's safety plan, please contact your school principal.

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