District continues to develop school safety plan
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Tue., Feb. 12, 2013
Prompted by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Hebron public school district is moving forward with plans to beef up security at the town's two elementary schools. After attending a state-wide security summit in January, Interim Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi and others began to put together a plan for the district.
“For me, anyway, I realized there are so many ways to be vulnerable, including weather, chemicals, other natural disasters,” said Veronesi. The district put together a task force to address the topic. Attending the Jan. 30 meeting were Veronesi, RHAM Superintendent of Schools Bob Siminski, Hebron’s emergency management director, Bill Kramer, Fire Marshal Randy Blaise, resident state troopers Kyle Fitzgibbons and Dan Greenwood, Hebron public schools maintenance foreman Wayne Durocher, and two representatives from the district’s before-and-after-school prep program.
“I think a lot of districts are thinking there will be some legislation coming down from the state,” said Veronesi, “and maybe some money to go along with it.” But the district didn’t want to wait for that to happen. “I think it’s important for people to know that we’re not just sitting back and waiting,” said Veronesi. The interim superintendent has already reached out to district parents and staff, asking them to identify areas that might be of concern. This resulted in a tightening up of existing procedures, such as a buzzer and badge system utilized at both of the district’s elementary schools.
The most recent step has been the completion of a vulnerability assessment tool put together by the American Clearinghouse on Educational Facilities. "The tool is a starting point," said Kramer. "In 1998, the U.S. Department of Education established the Educational Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC) program to provide information on planning, design, finance, construction, improvement and maintenance of safe, healthy, high performance schools. In 2010, Tarleton State University was awarded the authority to continue the EFC initiative - the American Clearinghouse on Educational Facilities. This is the document we are using."
The survey asks approximately 500 questions, estimated Veronesi, designed to assess the district’s safety in a variety of different areas, and to identify areas that might need attention. Veronesi said that some areas she completed herself, some she assigned to Durocher. The assessment addresses areas such as campus safety and security, building interiors and exteriors and communications systems. The risk factor assessment includes questions about violence within the school and the surrounding community, whether there are gangs in the area, whether there is vandalism and graffiti in the area. There are questions asking about bus loading areas, and whether they are within view of staff at all times. “It’s just a very comprehensive assessment of the district,” said Veronesi. “I think it’s important to know where to start.”
With the assessment completed, the task force planned to meet again on Feb. 13 to discuss how to proceed. The assessment is part of the prevention component of hazard management, according to Veronesi. “It makes sense to spend a lot of time on the prevention part of the process, because prevention is the best-case scenario.” But no matter how prepared a district is, “things do happen,” said Veronesi. “And when they do happen, you want to make sure you have a plan. You want to know what you’re doing.” And this is where drills come in.
Among the drills that the district practices on a regular basis are fire drills, code yellows (modified lockdown), code blue (bomb threat), and code red (full lockdown). Among the areas of concern identified by parents and staff were parent volunteers, and their ability to cope during a drill. “If they’re not familiar with the different drills, they’re not going to know how to react,” said Veronesi. So, one of the plans is to develop handouts for volunteers describing procedures for the different drill situations. But one of the most important things in an emergency situation, said Veronesi, "is for students to follow the directions of their teacher.”