I write to share information on school safety in Barnstable Public Schools. The unthinkable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has caused many to ask about safety within our schools. Families have every right to expect that schools are safe places to learn.
School safety is our highest priority. A publication titled, “Massachusetts Task Force Report on School Safety and Security” was released in 2014. The report details best practices for school safety at school and district levels. Since its release, the recommendations within the report have guided my work as superintendent. The report stresses an emergency management cycle of Prevent, Prepare, Respond, and Recover. Additionally, our schools are currently implementing many of the recommendations within the report, and we will continue to address areas where additional resources and plans are needed. Below I have identified key areas from the report, along with reminders of our own high priority areas for implementation.
A key component of prevention is a positive school climate, and the relationships between adults and students. Our ongoing district priority of social emotional learning contributes to a positive school climate. Adults can also help develop a culture of “hear something, see something, say something” where students feel comfortable reporting threatening behaviors to adults. In addition to supporting a positive school climate, our schools enhance safety with operating protocols. Families should notice strict adherence, or in some cases a change, to our protocols. I have highlighted four examples below.
- Access to schools is limited to one main monitored entrance. The main office in each school will implement procedures that require the identification and intended purpose of every visitor. Moreover, Barnstable High School has implemented new procedures for the individual dismissal of students.
- Visible visitor name badges. Visitor badges allow staff to immediately identify a visitor. All visitors, including parent volunteers, are expected to wear visitor badges.
- Student identification badges. Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, all students will be required to have identification badges with lanyards. Schools will implement developmentally appropriate practices with the badges.
Anonymous tip line system. Shortly, we will be launching an anonymous tip line system that students, parents, and community members can use. More information will follow via email with specific information, and we will post the information on our website.
For an effective response, before incidents occur, emergency procedures need to be developed through several cycles of plan, practice, and review. Whole school plans, protocols and drills are a large and critical part of preparing to respond to incidents.
- ALICE response. All staff will receive training in ALICE protocols. ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) emphasizes proactive, options-based strategies during an emergency. ALICE training is a different response than our current Run-Hide-Fight protocol from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ALICE training is intended to empower staff as decision-makers in an event.
The success of a response to an incident requires the immediate integration of school staff and first responders. Last April, Barnstable Public Schools established an Emergency Planning Task Force. The task force includes representatives from fire, police, DPW, and district personnel. The meetings have focused on emergency responses with first responders, as well as identifying specific evacuation and reunification plans for each of our nine schools.
- Evacuation and Reunification Plans. The Emergency Planning Task Force has identified plans for each school should the need arise to evacuate an entire school. Additionally, our evacuation plans include where parents/guardians will be reunited with their children in the case of a whole school evacuation. In order to maintain security, we are not publishing these plans to the public. Please know that our plans include communication to parents/guardian through our phone and email notification systems.
- Upgrades to BPS infrastructure. Through our capital and operating budget we continue to enhance security systems. These include increased and enhanced video surveillance systems that can be accessed by first responders, and communication devices and systems. The details of the infrastructure will not be made public in order to protect security.
The goal of recovery is to restore a safe and healthy learning environment in a school. It is the process of mending the physical and psychological health of school community members, as well as restoring its physical facilities to re-establish a positive learning environment. We are fortunate to have highly qualified school counselors and school psychologists who are able to assist with recovery efforts.
- School crisis response teams. Each BPS school has an established crisis response team that is responsible for leadership during recovery efforts. This includes collaborating with outside partners as necessary in order to meet the needs of staff and students.
Our actions in prevention, preparedness, and responsiveness, are the best way to ensure schools are safe places to learn. As we ensure fidelity to our protocols, families may observe changes that are intended to enhance our current security measures. We thank you for your patience and understanding.
Please contact your child’s principal if you need clarification or have questions about protocols. While we want to avoid compromising security through public discussions of measures that are in place, we do want to be sure that BPS parents and guardians have their questions answered by building principals. Further, we welcome input from parents/guardians, students, and staff about our safety and security protocols. We remain committed to ensuring that all of our students attend schools that are safe, welcoming, and nurturing. We are grateful for your continued support and partnership in this important endeavor.