The conversation around school safety has many moving parts. The bottom line is ensuring the safety of students, teachers and other faculty members, but the methods for ensuring this safety often fall on many different stakeholders, including school administrators, law enforcement, parents and community members. Putting together a safety plan based on these factors can be difficult, but is extremely necessary. It includes considerations like funding, proximity to law enforcement, legislation and stakeholder involvement. To better understand what a modern school safety plan looks like, we posed a series of questions to a round-table of teachers and administrators in Colorado and Illinois — two states unfortunately well-versed in school shootings.
Rebecca Jurs holds two positions within Central School District 301: She is the emergency preparedness coordinator for the district and the principal of Lily Lake Grade School, one of seven schools in the district (one high school, two middle schools and four elementary schools). Jurs has extensive experience planning and implementing emergency preparedness plans, which include active shooter plans, as well as protocols for natural disasters.
Greg Rabenhorst is the superintendent at Weld RE-3J School District in Colorado, which is comprised of seven different schools – four elementary schools, one charter, one middle and one high school – and more than 2,400 students. With 13years of experience as an administrator, Rabenhorst is intimately familiar with the challenges of putting together a comprehensive school safety plan for all levels of education.
Scott Mackall is the assistant director of facility and operations for the Northshore School District 112, located in the suburb of Highland Park right outside of Chicago. The school district has 12 schools, including elementary, middle and early childhood schools.
Q1: What is the primary consideration when creating a school security plan?
Rebecca Jurs (RJ): Our primary consideration is to remember that our job is to educate the students. Our safety plans must consider how we can effectively educate our students while also keeping them safe. Plans will look very different depending on what district you are in. You must look at every single school and assess what safety issues could occur or may occur or could potentially occur at each of those school sites. For example, rooms will be selected for specific triage or a phone room or reunifications. This must be done on a building level as well as district level.
The other piece is really practicing all of your drills, not just your active shooter drills, but all of your drills in a way that students are taught what is expected and why it is important.
Scott Mackall (SM): Working with local law enforcement! The primary concern is to create a workable plan with local police and buy-in from the staff and community. The plan must remove students from the threat area as soon and safely as possible and the challenge is to know where the threat is located within the building. Should there be an intruder in the South wing of a building, the rest of the building would not be aware of the situation. Notification of the whole staff in real time is of the utmost importance. The BluePoint system we installed solves these issues and provides local police not only with instant notification but also with critical information they need to respond better.
One of the most important and often most overlooked thing (if people are being honest) is in the training needed to make any plan work. In a crisis, regular responses leave our minds and panic usually takes over. Most school districts have a five to 10 percent turnover in staff each year.With a portion of this happening during the school year, a plan must be in place to train new hires and update the staff database for notifications.
Greg Rabenhorst (GR): Since all crisis situations are different and unpredictable, it is difficult to set a true “plan.” The primary goal is to put systems in place that create a fluid team that is trained and has the ability to quickly assess the situation and make decisions along pre-established guidelines and parameters and take actions to keep students and staff safe.
The next question in the series is "What do you consider the most important tool or resource at your disposal for school security?"