(By Matt Pedigo, The Citizen-Times, February 22, 2018, Used with Permission)
In the wake of a series of school attacks in recent years, including the latest in Florida and one much nearer to home, in Marshall County, administrators of the Allen County School District want to assure parents/guardians that their children are attending a school district that has been made as safe as possible.
However, the administrators add, parents and students should also take a role in keeping it safe by talking with their children. They also urge adults and students alike to report activities that could indicate a violent mental disturbance.
“If you hear anything, or see anything, report it immediately to a trusted school adult,” Superintendent Randall Jackson said.
“Every parent and every student must be part of the solution if they know anyone contemplating such a heinous act,” Assistant Superintendent of Operations Brian Carter adds.
The School District has made a long line of preparations in case of a school emergency, including assessments of all four school buildings with experts from the Kentucky Centers for Safe Schools. Physical improvements, including fencing and gates, have also been added, as have security cameras and extra lighting around athletic areas.
One of the first preparations began in the early 2000s, with the addition of a school resource officer—a trained law enforcement officer who also works standard street duty when school is not in session.
With the procurement of a federal grant, the District was able to add a second officer for the 2014-2015 school year. The Scottsville Police Department and Allen County Sheriffs Office now each have a school officer, and they visit all schools daily. They check doors and classrooms frequently, and build rapport with students and faculty.
That same school year, the District also implemented Fast Path, a growing nationwide system of training and school building hallway signage that allows first responders to more quickly find parts of each school building where trouble has been reported. That can save precious time in an active shooter situation—and, potentially, lives. To enhance that, the District is also adding numbers to all exterior windows.
On several occasions when school is not in session, local and KSP officers have conducted active-shooter trainings, using the schools themselves so responding officers will be familiar with their floor plans. Some of these drills have been as realistic as safely possible, using live-fire blanks or paint pellets and someone playing the part of the “shooter.” Last year, drills were expanded to include school busses, should an attacker try that.
In these drills, firefighters have also blocked off campus entrances, as they would in a real emergency.
For years, the District has also implemented lockdown procedures, which were used this past Monday following the Ray Pardue Road shootings. (The shooter was never reported near any local schools, but the lockdown was a precautionary measure.) When the order is given, every classroom door is locked—“no ifs, ands or buts,” District Safety Director Shane Davis said. In all school attacks thus far, no victims have been behind locked doors; the killers usually don’t want to waste the time to get in, and move on to find easier targets.
Students have been instructed to huddle away from any windows the doors may have, out of a potential killer’s line of sight or fire. In live drills with specially-suited Kentucky State Police trainers and local officers, teachers and other school personnel have been trained on where to stand to possibly tackle an assailant should he or she breach the door lock.
But what happens if a student is trapped in the hallway, or is in a large open area when the school goes into lockdown? Carter said he and other administrators had that very conversation with students regarding the Allen County-Scottsville High School cafeteria.
“We asked students what they would do if they were in the lunchroom,” he said.
“Just hunker down,” was one student’s answer.
Carter said students didn’t seem to realize that in that situation, they should leave the building and get as far away from the killer as possible.
“Kids have to feel free to leave the building if they don’t feel safe and can’t get in a locked door,” he said. “If the doors are locked, and kids are in the hall, we want them to feel free to go to a safe spot.”
The use of social media like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can be a two-edged sword. Irresponsible posts can spread misinformation too quickly for truth to catch up, and can also make a real crisis worse. And some posters are simply dishonest.
“How do we stop social media from deliberately falsifying things?” Jackson said. “It really can hurt our efforts by creating false paranoia. Unfortunately, some use the social media platform to cause disruption,” Jackson said.
He noted one recent example, in which a passing adult posted a Facebook message about seeing large numbers of police cars at a school. It almost caused a panic. The school was having a drill, but there was only one police car—that belonging to the resource officer. The Facebook poster got a police visit and was ordered to take it down.
School was out here last Thursday and Friday due to illness. Jackson noted that other school districts that were in session in the days immediately following last week’s mass shooting in Florida had to deal with a flurry of unfounded, social-media-driven rumors.
On the positive side, social media can be a handy way to spot a potential killer—or even suicidal person—by their hostile or threatening posts. Jackson, Carter and Davis urge parents to monitor their child’s social media activity as well as checking their rooms and phones for potential threats or even cyber-bullying. (One teenage killer, it was discovered, had homemade bombs in his room, and his guardians claimed not to know of them.) They should also determine if a child has access to weapons.
Teachers and administrators have been conducting these conversations with students, Carter noted.
And school disasters aren’t always man-made. Students and faculty are also drilled for tornadoes and severe weather. In 2015, Louisville National Weather Service meteorologist and consultant Joe Sullivan toured local schools with administrators, including Carter, to provide safety tips and point out weaknesses. Improvements made after that include reinforcing outer doors to offer more wind and debris resistance. Tornado shelter areas were also upgraded district-wide.
Emergency management plans have been made and frequently updated as well. In a real emergency, area firefighters will be blocking off entrances to the campus. The District has devised a re-unification system for parents and children, though, with a student body of about 3,000, it won’t be a quick process, and patience is urged.
The administrators say the District will keep families updated as much as possible through the use of the District’s electronic “One Call” phone dialing system and website (allen.kyschools.us) as well as media like Scottsville’s WVLE Love FM radio and area television stations, where possible. The Citizen-Times will add emergency
information to its Facebook page as well.
The District has also looked at some possible motivations for school attackers. Procedures have been developed for dealing with bullying, for one example, as well as potential child abuse. The SPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) officer, Brooke Davis, has also done programs with students on internet safety.
The administrators also want the community to know that, throughout the school year, counselors are available to speak with students. In addition to bullying and other social ills, many youth are hurting from being in adverse home environments or other issues that can cause emotional trauma. That can lead to far worse—most school attackers and many suicidal teens have come from dysfunctional homes.
“If you see a child in conflict, talk to the counselors,” Jackson said.
Even when nothing has happened locally, news of such attacks elsewhere contributes to a sense of unease among youth. Parental communication can help, the administrators say.
“Parents can reassure their kids that (at Allen County’s schools) they are in a safe place, and they are loved,” Davis adds.