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Shorewood updating school safety plans

Standardized training recommended

Feb. 13, 2013

Shorewood - The Shorewood School District is taking steps to assess and improve its safety and security, in light of recent national events of extreme violence.

Dennis Lewis, Edu-Safe consultant and co-founder, reported to the School Board on Tuesday preliminary findings based on a two-day walk-through this week of the district's campuses and review of its safety procedures and practices.

Superintendent Martin Lexmond said the district had already planned to conduct a safety review of its facilities later in the year, but moved the process up following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Lewis' review focused primarily on how well prepared the district is for "extreme acts of school violence," such as an active shooter on one of its campuses.

With regard to procedures and training, Lewis' approach was to consider what the district has done to ensure that staff members are as prepared and ready to respond as they can be in such an event.

From a facility perspective, "If you recognize that these things, even with the best intentions, can still occur," Lewis said. "We want to look at things that will impede or delay the assailant when they enter the campus area, and try to shrink that time period down so that law enforcement has an opportunity to arrive before the incident really progresses too far."

Lewis recommended several safety improvements for the district to consider making, such as updating its sheltering procedures to address unique areas or events - for example, a basketball game in a gymnasium or theater performance in an auditorium, providing local law enforcement with floor plans of its buildings and labeling exterior classroom windows with corresponding room numbers, and standardizing training procedures for staff, including substitute teachers.

"I do like to see consistency, where practical, in school security and safety," Lewis said. "So I'll probably recommend some consistency be developed related to some procedures and how those procedures are delivered to staff, and then staff overall knowledge of those procedures."

Lewis also noted that the open campus in place at the high school poses unique safety concerns, and suggested using "text blasting" if there is a need to alert students who may be between buildings, and designating only certain areas of the building where students can eat lunch, with staff supervision, in order to provide more structure.

As far as strengths he observed, Lewis noted that the doors at Atwater Elementary were locked upon his arrival and he was asked to state who he was and why he was there before being buzzed in. Also at the elementary level, a staff member he interviewed at Lake Bluff demonstrated that he was clearly mentally prepared on how he would handle an active shooter situation, Lewis added.

Shorewood Intermediate School has the added security feature of a double-gated entry, Lewis said, which allows for the screening of visitors after initial entry, before they are able to pass through a second set of doors.

At the high school, the primary role of the campus supervisor is to connect with and be available to students - something Lewis said is critical in preventing acts of violence at the secondary level, which often are committed by students themselves. The campus supervisor would be more likely to pick up on any prior communication of intent by a student, he explained.

Following his presentation, Lewis fielded questions from the board related to costs and funding for safety and security upgrades, and specific improvements that might be recommended.

"The reason not to go into details about specific safety strategies is because we want to protect that information so that it's not available publicly," Lexmond noted.

Many of his recommendations will have little to no cost associated with them, Lewis said, but he told the board that there may be federal grant opportunities available to help fund safety and security improvements.

Lewis will provide the board with a full written report with his recommendations in about one month.

AT A GLANCE

Edu-Safe is an advisory and training organization established to assist school administrators and others with the task of providing safe schools.

School safety audits, as conducted in the Shorewood School District, include evaluation of these components:

safety and security of building and grounds

development and enforcement of policies and handbooks

procedures for data collection

level of staff development

development of intervention and prevention plans

opportunities for student involvement

level of parent and community involvement

development of crisis management plans

standards for safety and security personnel

For more information on Edu-Safe, visit edu-safe.org.

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