Next school year's calendar changed to improve student safety
The Upper Arlington Board of Education approved two calendar changes March 11, citing student safety as reasons for both.
One change extends students' Memorial Day holiday by an additional day and another calls for schools to be closed on Election Day.
Chris Potts, executive director of business services, said the district was granted a Professional Development Waiver Day by the Ohio Department of Education for Tuesday, May 28, so the staff can train with safety specialists from the Educators School Safety Network.
"The safety of our students is our No. 1 priority," Potts said. "This day will provide our district with important training for our entire staff so they will be better prepared to respond to potential acts of violence in our schools."
Upper Arlington is among many districts that have tightened and enhanced classroom safety measures since the school shootings Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Potts said the revision in the calendar for May means students will get Monday and Tuesday off for Memorial Day weekend this year.
He said the safety training will begin with the background, history and effectiveness of school lockdown procedures.
"The majority of the workshop focuses on the specific skills and suggested strategies needed to improve existing lockdown procedures and implement enhanced responses to crisis events," he said. "Instructors with expertise and experience in crisis management, school administration and negligence/liability will discuss how current lockdown procedures need to evolve."
He said the instructors will present a range of options for effective school crisis response and will assist staff members in developing an action plan for training and implementation.
New camera systems have now been installed at all Upper Arlington schools, which use a single point of entry with a camera and buzz-in system.
Potts said all the new entry devices are in operation except at the high school, where procedures are still being developed.
He said colored passes for visitors have also been printed and distributed to all schools.
"You should notice all visitors, substitute teachers, student teachers and volunteers wearing these colored passes," he said. "This system will give our entire district a consistent look for visitors in our buildings and one that can be recognized by all students and staff."
Board members approved a $15,000 contract in February with Impact America to conduct school vulnerability assessments for all nine district buildings and the central office.
"Their vulnerability assessment for schools has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a benchmark for the industry," Potts said. "The assessments will provide the district with a thorough review of all of our buildings and grounds to identify strengths, weaknesses and ways to enhance our current security and emergency management programs."
Gary Sigrist from Impact America will spend nine days in the district, observing buildings from the time they open until they close at night, Potts said.
During spring break, the district will also partner with the Upper Arlington Police Division, which is finalizing plans to conduct school-violence training and response drills at the high school.
"This provides officers with an opportunity to put into practice their plans for how to respond to reported violence in the schools," he said.
Closing schools on Election Day is something many districts are doing, Potts said. Upper Arlington schools will be closed to students on that day this November, but teachers will be present for professional development.
Potts said calendar committees would work together each year to make Election Day a professional development day. In the years where there are primary elections in UA, he said, the district will work with elections board officials to determine which schools will be polling places and where extra security will be needed.
"The topic has been mentioned by our principals and staff for years and was discussed at length at our safety forums for parents," Potts said. "This change will still allow the district to meet the needs of the Franklin County Board of Elections and our community voters, while meeting the objective to improve safety for our students."
The district conducted school safety forums at each of the buildings during January and February.
"I was very pleased with the community response to our safety forums," Potts said. "It gave the district an opportunity to hear from parents about their safety concerns and helped the district establish an improvement plan for safety.
"We will continue to examine our safety measures to ensure that our schools are safe and welcoming centers for teaching and learning," he said.