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In the Know column: School safety – a top priority

Social media is a powerful tool often used to influence others; unfortunately, not always for the good.

By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools

As we welcome students and staff back for the New Year I want to share some of our practices regarding student safety.

You are likely aware of the national events in December related to a social media phenomenon that caused school closures across the country. The impact of social media has certainly added complexity to school and community safety. Know that as a school district we continue with our preparations around student safety. This update feels timely given the events of last month.

Access to buildings

Our buildings welcome students in the mornings before school through a multitude of entrances. Staff are often at the doors or in the halls greeting students. Once we start our school day, all exterior doors are locked except for the main entrance. Access for visitors and students after the start of the school day takes place only through the main entrance.

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Visitor registration

Per our policy, all visitors must sign in at the main office. Just prior to COVID hitting our world, we implemented the Raptor visitor management system. This allows for screening/registration of visitors and prints off a temporary photo visitor badge. We will continue to roll this system out at all locations as we move through this school year.

Security cameras

We have over 200 cameras that support monitoring of entrances, hallways and parking lots. These cameras are not monitored on a continuous basis, but allow for follow up should events occur in those areas.

Plans, staff training, practice drills

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

Each school has a plan that is specific to their building and the plan is reviewed and revised 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.

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Regional approach

We partner closely with our local law enforcement including the Alexandria Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff. Over winter break local law enforcement had a chance to do some training within our facilities. We also partner on a regional level with Julie Anderson, Douglas County Emergency Management/Public Information Officer who helps facilitate crisis response for the region.

School Resource Officers

We have full-time School Resource Officers (SROs) at Discovery Middle School and Alexandria Area High School. Our SROs are committed to developing relationships with students and to supporting administration as needed. Their presence in the halls, cafeteria and at school events provides a sense of security and community for our schools. We appreciate the partnership we have with our SROs to keep our school safe.

Communication

Communication is critical in an emergency. Earlier this year we practiced our rapid notification system (Blackboard Connect) prior to our first weather impacted day. We will continue to utilize this system as we move forward in response situations.

Digital awareness for parents

Social media is a powerful tool often used to influence others; unfortunately, not always for the good. The situation last month serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats. Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff. We encourage parents to be attentive to their child’s use of social media. We invite them to take time to talk to their child/ren about the influence of social media and the potential consequences of engaging in unsafe, disruptive behavior. A resource for parents regarding appropriate boundaries for social media usage was shared following the events last month.

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Rest assured, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority. We appreciate the partnership and support of our families and community members to ensure safe, secure, and positive learning environments for our students and staff.

Rick Sansted is the superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIAEDUCATION
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