Upper Arlington News

Study helps UA schools improve safety protocols

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Upper Arlington City Schools "took a hard look" at its safety procedures through a school vulnerability assessment and is developing a new safety plan to tighten crisis plans.

Chris Potts, executive director of business services, said representatives from Impact America recently conducted school assessments for all nine district buildings and the central office.

"Impact America allowed us to take a hard look at our current safety procedures and plan for future improvements to correct any weaknesses that were identified," he said. "Since this assessment was an all-hazards approach, we are able to identify strengths and weaknesses for all things safety, not just intruders and violence."

Potts said the assessment included threats to school safety such as tornadoes, flood and fire, along with how buildings might be accessible to violent intruders.

Upper Arlington and many area school districts have been enhancing classroom safety measures since the school shooting Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adult staff members were killed by an intruder.

Upper Arlington conducted a number of safety forums after the shooting, asking parents to voice their concerns.

The district also installed new door buzzer systems at all school buildings.

"The door buzz systems have been operational in all school buildings except the high school since February," Potts said. "The community has really responded well to this culture change and I thank them for their flexibility and patience."

He said procedures for entry are still being developed at the high school.

When someone comes to the main entrance of an elementary school, they have to hit a button. A secretary or designee is then able to view who is at the door before they unlock it.

"We were commended by Impact America for having these in place and following this best practice for school security," Potts said.

The district also extended the Memorial Day holiday for students through Tuesday, May 28, so the full staff could complete safety and lockdown enhancement training in each building.

Potts said local police were expected to attend the training, but that the main purpose of the day was not lockdown drills with police.

"The staff members are learning new procedures on how the traditional lockdown needs to evolve and change," he said.

He said the workshop is called "Beyond Lockdown" and is presented by nationally known school safety experts.

"The workshop focuses on skills and strategies needed to improve existing lockdown procedures and techniques to implement enhanced responses to crisis events in our schools," he said. "The training will give teachers and all staff the chance to step back and think differently about how to keep everyone safe during an act of violence.

"At the end of the day, staffs have meaningful discussions about the day and identify concerns and questions about how to implement any of the strategies they have learned," he said. "Our No. 1 priority is the safety and security of our kids and this training helps enhance our ability to meet our safety goals."

The district paid $1,500 per building, or $15,000, to Impact America for the vulnerability study.

Gary Sigrist, from Impact America, spoke to school board members earlier this month.

"In a country driven by the Sandy Hook tragedy, we have to take another look at our responses to violence and to things like fire safety and even hygiene safety, to make sure there is a limited amount of chemicals in a building," he said. "We are very thorough and always recommend best practices in school safety."

Sigrist said his reports to the district will cover strengths and weaknesses of each building.

"They will be a sort of roundup, where we list some things you can do right now and others that may take awhile," he said.

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