School safety paramount issue at RSU 40 board meeting

By Bane Okholm | Dec 21, 2012
Photo by: Bane Okholm RSU 40 Superintendent Susan Pratt displays her staff identification card during the Dec. 20 board meeting at Medomak Middle School.

Waldoboro — Discussion regarding school safety measures dominated the Regional School Unit 40 school board meeting held at Medomak Middle School Dec. 20.

"[Safety] plans are fluid documents in that things change, situations change, best practice changes," said Superintendent Susan Pratt.

Pratt added that she is anticipating feedback regarding a recent draft of safety protocols, which was submitted to emergency management personnel in October.

"As you can well imagine, contact people change all the time...so it really has to be a fluid document," Pratt said. "I will tell you that our administrative team is on top of this."

According to Pratt, "students are taught not to open the door for anyone, even if they know who they are." Visitors are expected to check in at the main office of each district school, and staff members required to wear identification passes at all times.

Pratt said there are protocols in place for both evacuations, such as in the event of a fire, and facility lockdowns.

However, while nine evacuation drills are mandated per year, "there's no requirement for a lockdown drill," Pratt said.

The superintendent added she currently recommends schools practice one lockdown per year, but had "no problem" mandating two lockdown drills per year.

According to Pratt, drills have been conducted in RSU 40 schools this academic year as follows:

  • Warren Community School has run three evacuation drills and two lockdown drills.
  • Friendship Village School has conducted two evacuation drills and no school-wide lockdown drills; however, each teacher has run lockdown drills within their classrooms.
  • Medomak Valley High School has run four evacuation drills and two lockdown drills. Pratt said the police chief, emergency management agency director, and fire chief were present during one of the lockdown drills to observe and give feedback.
  • Medomak Middle School has conducted six evacuation drills and two lockdown drills. According to Pratt, another previously scheduled lockdown drill will take place in January, and will be observed by emergency services personnel.
  • Miller School in Waldoboro has run five evacuation drills and two lockdown drills.

In many instances, Pratt said, school administrators reviewed drill results with emergency management personnel after the fact to improve procedures.

"We truly do want all children to be safe," Pratt said.

Alternate student locations

Board Member Lynda Letteney voiced concern that while lockdown drills are run in classroom situations, logistical difficulties have seemingly precluded districts from running drills when many students are in auditoriums and cafeterias.

"Most of our school shootings... cafeterias and auditoriums are big targets," Letteney said. "And I really think it behooves us as a board and a district to make sure that our emergency plan has at least one evacuation drill from both places for all students in our building."

Letteney suggested designating a day for such a drill in RSU 40 schools, but cautioned against making details of lockdown drills too public.

"I think we're getting smarter about not just sending everybody [outside], but you don't share the exact plan with the public because it's too easy for the perpetrators to figure out where you're going," Letteney said.

Pratt agreed that certain details of drills are held back from the public for student and staff safety in the event of a crisis.

Board Member Cynthia Rosen said that she hopes the policy committee takes up the issue of school safety protocols.

"It behooves us to act with prudence," Rosen said.

Preventative measures

Superintendent Pratt also spoke during the Dec. 20 meeting against parents bringing their children to and from school grounds in personal vehicles.

"I understand parents want to bring their kids to school, but they really create [more] safety issues when they do that than they would if we put them on the bus," Pratt said. "There's a constant flow of people in and out of the building in the morning, and it lasts for an hour."

Board member Tod Brown said he has occasionally walked into district buildings without being stopped or questioned. Brown called the lack of intervention by school staff "a little bothersome."

"People like me shouldn't be wandering around in schools unchallenged, that's a simple fact," Brown said.

Pratt said she and newly-hired Facilities/Transportation Supervisor George Bridges are "very interested" in investigating technology that uses ID cards with magnetic strips as keys for doors.

According to the superintendent, electronic door locks would circumvent issues of former employees and school affiliates who still possess keys. Such technology could also provide a "whole system" approach that would enable school personnel to monitor lights and heat remotely.

"The advantage is, from a system point, it's efficiency as well," Pratt said, adding that she and Bridges will check into cost and "qualifications" for such systems.

In other business:

Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde and School Resource Officer Thomas Hoepner gave an annual site analysis presentation regarding Medomak Middle School, Medomak Valley High School and Miller School.

According to an information packet distributed during the meeting, there were a total of 379 calls regarding the schools, the majority of which — 210 calls — were property checks.

Hoepner added that more bullying events are being reported due to school programs that encourage victims to contact authorities.

Neil Lash, anatomy and horticulture teacher at MVHS, suggested a recitation contest in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address in 2013. Lash previously obtained a honey locust sapling grown from the tree near President Abraham Lincoln in an iconic photograph of the occasion, which currently grows on MVHS grounds. Lash said he would like to raise funds for prize money, and the RSU 40 School Board unofficially voiced their support for the enterprise.

Pratt distributed financial reports indicating that RSU 40 is "extremely tight" on transportation supplies and maintenance, with yearly expenditures already at or above 50 percent. Other budget lines seem to be holding steady at approximately 40 percent already spent for 2012-2013. Pratt said she is predicting an 8.2 percent decrease in federal aid for the next fiscal year, and is telling employees to keep this in mind when preparing budgets.

MVHS Principal Harold Wilson reported that though the school is still accredited, MVHS has been on probation since a 2006 site visit and will continue to remain so until the school's five portable buildings are eliminated. Wilson is beginning to make preparations in 2013 ahead of 2016 site visit, and said he is "confident the accreditation process will go smoothly."

Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde addresses the RSU 40 Board of Directors at Medomak Middle School Dec. 20. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Waldoboro School Resource Officer Thomas Hoepner interacts with a member of the public during the Dec. 20 RSU 40 Board of Directors meeting at Medomak Middle School. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
From left, MVHS student liaison Brianna Gross and RSU 40 board members Dennis Wooster and Danny Jackson participate in a learning group activity during the Dec. 20 meeting at Medomak Middle School. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
RSU 40 board members Lynda Letteney, left, and Sandra O'Farrell participate in a learning group activity during the Dec. 20 meeting at Medomak Middle School. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
RSU 40 school board members participate in a learning group activity during the Dec. 20 meeting at Medomak Middle School. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
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