A top priority

Local schools update safety plans after deadly Florida shooting

AP PHOTO This photo was taken as students protested following the shooting two weeks ago that killed 17 people, including 15 students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schook in Parkland, Fla.

LOCK HAVEN — No parent should ever be afraid of sending their child to school.

It seems, however, that in this day and age it’s commonplace.

The number of mass shootings and gun related incidents has continued to grow over the past few years. 2017 was named one of the deadliest years for mass shootings.

A mass shooting is an incident involving multiple victims of violence involving firearms.

The FBI defines a public mass shooting as one in which four or more people selected indiscriminately, not including the perpetrator, are killed or injured.

A total of 346 mass shootings occurred in 2017, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

In 2016 the number was listed at 383.

2018 has barely begun, but there have already been multiple school shootings. The most recent occurred in Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed by a former student who entered the school and used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to gun down 14 students and three staff members.

This tragedy has once again sparked multiple debates and uproar, from those who advocate for stricter gun laws, and others who just want to be sure that their loved ones will be safe.

In Clinton, Lycoming and Centre counties, local school districts are doing their best to prevent such a horrific event from happening.

Dr. Jill Wenrich, superintendent of the Jersey Shore Area School District, explained that the faculty and staff in JSASD prepare for active shooter situations, although they hope they never have to use the skills they learn.

“Indeed the event in Florida is tragic,” she wrote in an email. “The faculty and staff in the Jersey Shore Area School District go through active shooter training on an annual basis.”

Dr. Wenrich added that they are currently completing an updated All-Hazards Plan.

The All-Hazards Plan is based off a template that the district has been using for some time, Dr. Wenrich said. These plans consist of procedures and actions that can be taken during dangerous events.

This plan will be circulated through the school district, vetted by the local police and regional emergency manager and updated annually to make sure the information in it is current, said Dr. Wenrich.

“The District also has partnerships with local agencies and groups as part of our plan,” she added. “The District employs a Student Resource Officer whose duties are shared by two officers from the Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department.”

The student resource officer visits the school buildings frequently, she said.

Parents are also kept in the know at JSASD when it comes to any form of dangerous events.

Dr. Wenrich explained that the district utilizes the PA One Call system, a privately funded non-profit corporation whose goal is to help provide an efficient and effective communications network.

If an emergency situation were to arise, parents would be contacted via phone and/or email to alert them.

In the Keystone Central School District, new training methods are in the works to help prepare students and faculty alike.

Angela Harding, communications director at KCSD, spoke of the ALICE method, which will eventually replace the lockdown method that the district has been using.

Harding explained that the ALICE method is a form of training that uses tactics that are more proactive.

Greg Crane, founder of the ALICE Training Institute, created the training course after the tragic events of Columbine in 1999.

ALICE is an acronym that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. This method is not necessarily offensive in nature but it is more active in comparison to the lockdown method.

Currently, the district is in the process of finding a time to train the faculty.

Once the faculty is trained they will be able to bring it into their classroom and teach their students, Harding explained.

Drills currently happen during each school year using the lockdown method and will continue even after the ALICE method is introduced.

The drills are usually kept secret from the students so that they may react to the situation as if it were real in order to better prepare them.

Another new resource that the school board has been in the process of starting is a Safety and Security Committee.

“The KCSD Board of Directors has begun discussion on creating and implementing a Safety and Security Committee to continually monitor best practice, district policy, and laws and regulations for the welfare of all students and staff in the district. The details of who will comprise the committee are still being discussed,” Harding said.

School resource officers are also located in the district and have already received ALICE training.

Harding also added that school resource officers are not the only form of law enforcement allowed in the building. Local and state police are also very much welcome in the buildings as well.

The school district also has a way to communicate with parents in a disastrous event.

Through the Power Announcement Notification System, parents of KCSD students can receive notifications about school closings, delays, early dismissals and other urgent announcements, Harding said.

“In addition to posting weather-related and other time-sensitive announcements on the District’s homepage, Power Announcement integrates with our Student Management System to proactively send out announcements, via email, text/SMS, and telephone call,” she explained. “Additionally, these announcements can be tailored to specific buildings, if necessary.”

Harding gave an example of such an incident.

“If students are being dismissed early from one particular school building due to a water main break that only affects that building, only parents and guardians of students in that building will be notified,” she said.

As for the tragedy in Parkland, Fla., it continues to affect KCSD.

“It may have happened hundreds of miles away but it’s still on our minds at KCSD,” Harding said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those families involved.”

Meanwhile, the Central Mountain Student Government Committee talked about holding fundraisers and collecting donations for those effected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school.

At the Bellefonte Area School District many safety measures have already been implemented and new ways of improving the system are continually explored, according to Superintendent Dr. Michelle Saylor.

The school district uses the ALICE method and both the students and the staff are trained through drills a couple of times a year, Dr. Saylor said.

Multiple systems, like secure vestibules, are put in place to be proactive in preventing disastrous events.

These vestibules use a two door system to get into a building. Visitors must be let into one at a time and only after they’ve gone through safety checks and have been issued a temporary visitors badge.

Other safety measures include cameras both inside and outside the buildings, direct lines to local police and staff and school gate access.

Another system that Dr. Saylor said will be put in place is a Gaggle Software.

Gaggle is a system created back in 1998 by Jeff Patterson to help identify suspicious items and allows transparency for teachers and administrators.

“We continually look at what we can do to create a safe environment for a students and staff,” Dr. Saylor said.

Both a district safety committee and individual building safety committees meet monthly to discuss ways to make sure students and staff are as safe as possible.

The emergency plans put in place are dynamic and updated frequently, Dr. Saylor said.

A more recent resource that the district is exploring is a 24-hour tip line to help make contacting school officials about serious matters easier and more readily available.

Dr. Saylor also added the importance of the schoolwide positive behavior system they have in place as a way to help support the students.

Similar to KCSD and JSASD, if a disastrous event were to occur, BASD has a system to communicate with parents so they are aware of what is happening.

“Schools aren’t reactive, we’re proactive,” Dr. Saylor said.

Walnut Street Christian School of Avis may be smaller than most but that doesn’t mean they don’t work hard to keep the children in their care safe.

Pastor Tim Longnecker, the principal, said that they perform multiple drills throughout the school year involving lockdown drills, fire drills and other disaster related drills. He said they do two lockdown drills a year.

“We’re pretty much set,” he said about whether or not they’d look into other measures.

Not all area schools are able to use the lockdown or ALICE methods.

Sugar Valley Rural Charter School runs an open campus, meaning the lockdown method isn’t quite as effective. The campus itself also goes through multiple changes so it is difficult to use the methods other school districts have in place, CEO Tracie Kennedy said.

However, that does not mean they aren’t proactive in protective their students. At SVRCS they have a Crisis Plan instead. This plan is communicated to the state police as well as staff to help better protect students in the event of a disaster.

Kennedy said they plan on updating the Crisis Plan very soon and hope to have it in place before the current school year is up.

Student involvement in the Crisis Plan hasn’t been quite as high and that is also going to change as well, Kennedy confirmed.

“Schools aren’t reactive, we’re proactive.”

— Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent

Dr. Michelle Saylor.