Unit 1 implements school safety initiatives

Ann Gill

    At a time when reports of shootings and threats of violence at schools dominated the headlines, the Unit 1 School District was putting a plan together to enhance school safety.
    Following a school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL., the Unit 1 Board of Education directed the district’s superintendent to assemble focus groups comprised of school staff, local law enforcement, parents and community members to provide insight on what could be done to enhance safety throughout the district.
    The feedback, combined with research and insight on best practices, led to the development of a school safety action plan. The plan outlines seven goals highlighted by 13 recommended action plans that include increasing social service and security staff.
    “What I am really proud of with this plan is that it’s a combination of what I call hardening our schools and softening our schools,” Unit 1 Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg said.
    Goals include increased adult presence in all school buildings, meeting the social and emotional needs of all students, limiting access points, developing a parent education program, investigating the implementation of an anonymous student reporting system, developing a formal student assistance program for middle and high school students and making physical changes to district buildings  to enhance student safety.
    “Not only are we looking at the physical school in terms of security, entrances, lighting and cameras, but we’re also talking about how we identify kids with violent tendencies quicker and what supports we can put in place for them, so we’re talking about social services, police liaison services, and training our staff in identifying students and ways to support those students,” Bugg said.
     The plan calls for more supervisory personnel to attend to various aspects of student safety and thus the board has agreed to hire two security guards. It’s also looking to implement a parent/community adult volunteer program for the coming school year.
    The district will hire an additional social worker, ensuring each of the district’s five school buildings have a professional on staff to work with students.
    In order to further meet the social and emotional needs of its students, the district will train all of its staff members on ways to identify and support students showing tendencies toward violence.  This training will be rolled into the district’s professional development plan.
    Additional programing geared toward students in  grades 6-12 is viewed as a way to identify students in need of social, emotional or academic support.  The middle and high school student assistance teams will taking on this goal.
    In addition to staff training, the plan calls for the development of a formal parent education program aimed at educating parents on their role in helping to keep schools safe.
    The district would further utilize the program to inform parents on topics such as social media safety, warning signs of violence and district policies and procedures.
    In the coming months, the district will investigate the feasibility of implementing an anonymous student reporting system to report concerns and threats of violence which would then be forwarded to school personnel and local law enforcement.
    “If it is determined that such a system would be beneficial, the board should support implementation,” Bugg said.
    As for physical changes to school buildings, the plan  calls the installation of panic buttons in each front office and rekeying buildings if necessary.
    The district will continue to work with local law enforcement to determine the need and placement of additional outside security cameras and it will look at the viability of installing safety window film in various areas throughout the district.
    And, one of the enhancements students and parents will likely notice is changes to building access points.
    Building level administrators have been directed to collaborate with local law enforcement to develop a plan to limit access points at each building.
    The school safety plan, as well as the hiring of a social worker and security staff was unanimously approved by the board at its June 6 meeting. Board members Jeff Emerson and Chuck Lander were absent from the vote.
    “We will have a busy summer implementing all of these things to hit the ground running in August,” Bugg said.