Friday, February 23, 2018

Reflecting on tragedy and student safety

It has been just over a week since the unimaginable tragedy occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. My heart is heavy thinking of the 17 lives that were lost and the many other lives that in a blink of an eye, have been forever changed. At the same time, I can only hope that we never experience this kind of grief first hand.

As a country, we mourn the victims of this senseless act. Still, as we struggle to process this tragic event, we call on state and federal leaders to have the courage to seek meaningful solutions and take bold action to prevent tragedies like Parkland and Sandy Hook, from repeating time and again.

As we prepare to welcome students back on Monday, February 26, I want to assure you that as a district, we take the responsibility of protecting the children in our care very seriously. We are always assessing and reassessing our safety policies, procedures and protocols; however, in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting, we reflect even deeper on our safety practices as we strive to be proactive as opposed to reactive.

The following are some of the measures our district currently has in place intended to keep our students safe and facilities secure:

  • All doors in both buildings are locked at all times.  
  • Both buildings have a single, secure point of access during school hours and all visitors are "buzzed in" through a secure vestibule where they must present an ID, as well as sign a visitor's log and obtain a badge.  
  • Both buildings are equipped with internal and external surveillance cameras, which are monitored via computer.  
  • District and building-wide school emergency response plans are provided to staff members.
  • Numerous safety drills are practiced throughout the school year.  The Watervliet Police and Watervliet Fire Departments participate in many of our safety drills to remain familiar with the layout of both schools.  
  • Teachers and staff are required to wear identification badges during the school day.  
  • Before being hired, all employees are fingerprinted and background checks are conducted by the New York State Education Department.  
  • The WPD periodically conducts active shooter trainings in our buildings at times when students and staff are on vacation. Law enforcement also has representation at our Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Committee meetings.  
  • We have increased our mental health trainings, and will be introducing substance abuse/mental health counseling to our campus beginning next year.  
  • The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) is a component of school safety. Each building has a DASA coordinator, and any child or adult who feels bullied or threatened is strongly encouraged to report these incidents to the DASA coordinators for investigation. 

Lastly, in recent months Police Chief Mark Spain and I along with my administrative team began steps toward restoring a cooperative partnership between his department and our schools. To that end, Officer Chris Toleman, who has been with the WPD for four years and served in the Mechanicville PD before that, is working as a liaison between the police department and our schools.

In an effort to develop proactive and positive relationships with our students and staff, Officer Toleman will visit our schools as his schedule allows, and introduce himself to students and staff. I want to emphasize that Officer Toleman is not serving in the capacity of a School Resource Officer. He is not stationed in our school buildings, nor does he participate in any disciplinary actions or de-escalation efforts with students.

It remains important for teachers, staff, parents, students and community members to work toward a common goal of keeping our schools safe. The adage “if you see something, say something” could not be more important in today’s world, and could be a determining factor in preventing future tragedies. Please do not hesitate to report any threats of violence against our students or schools, or questionable behaviors that you hear about or see on social media to school leaders and law enforcement.

In the meantime, please know that we will continue to work every day to maintain a safe, positive environment for all of our students. As always, I encourage you to reach out to your child’s building principal or contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns.

Resources for helping children cope with trauma

The following links are resources to help reassure students who are troubled by this tragedy or are feeling anxious about returning to school in light of the extensive media coverage of this horrific event. Please be sure to let children know that they can talk to their school counselors or social workers at any time, if they feel the need.

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

National PTA School Safety resources

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