District 1 refining school emergency plans
At the Crane Elementary School District, superintendent Bob Klee said comprehensive emergency plans are in place.
However, after a recent lockdown on two of their campuses because of a report of a possible student with a gun on campus, the district found that it had safety measures in place that needed to be strengthened.
“We were very fortunate after the incident happened here a few weeks ago to sit down with YPD, all of our management team, directors, principals, assistant principals, and spent three hours working with them on what went well in the incident, what didn't go so well, what do we need to refine, what do we need to polish up,” he said.
With real-life experience under their belt, staff at Rancho Viejo and Salido del Sol elementary schools involved in the lockdown received additional training and talked it through with parents during PTO meetings.
Regarding the lockdown itself, he said, “I was very proud of how the students behaved and handled the situation, and that was because we had practiced that they'd actually just had a lockdown drill the week before at the Rancho Viejo Elementary School campus, so the kids knew what the procedures were, they followed them. It had to be very scary for them. The staff just pitched in. For the staff on the campuses it had to be very nerve-racking for them because it was a real-life situation. The other district office staff, as we relocated students to H.L. Suverkrup Elementary, everybody went over there to help out, everybody just dropped what they did and pitched in and helped out, and I take a lot of pride in that.”
He said that schools are revamping their emergency preparedness plans and most schools have gone to locking their doors internally, so once students are in the classroom teachers lock the doors and have a system for kids getting in and out if they need to go to the restroom, for example.
Crane as well as District 1 have school resource officers on their middle school campuses through grant funds that are also shared with their elementary campuses.
Yuma Union High School District superintendent Toni Badone said that while they were lucky enough to receive a grant a few years ago to update quite a bit on their campuses, they are due for another look at safety upgrades, despite a lack of funds.
“What we do routinely every year is, we have a couple of things going on: we have a safety committee, we also trust and spend good funds on, even during the recession we never hesitated to continue with, our school resource officers. So we work with YPD and we have a good relationship with YFD as well and also the San Luis Police Department for San Luis High School.”
She noted that SROs routinely assess each campus during lockdown drills as well as during real-life lockdown situations. Badone said that the officers debrief afterwards with administration and look for vulnerabilities. They also review protocols for varying types of possible scenarios that could occur.
With the high school district having more geographic territory, building wise, to protect, Badone said, their schools are similar to college campuses.
“We have a number of things that we consider, not just gates and doors, but that on any given day at lunch you have kids outside, 2,400 to 2,600 kids on a campus,” she commented.
“It's more like if you were working at the college level. That's where all of the practices come in; we do a lot of practices.”
School districts in Yuma are in the process of further refining their emergency management plans as part of an ongoing effort to keep students safe.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE), in partnership with the Arizona Division of Emergency Management, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the School Emergency Response Advisory Council, recently sent out revised minimum requirements for school emergency response plans. Revisions included things like streamlining drill requirements for emergency response and strengthening communication between all parties during a crisis situation.
While ADE is recommending that the new guidance template is utilized in its entirety, or in part to supplement existing strong plans, it is not required to be adopted.
In regards to plans for lockdown situations, fires, earthquakes and things of that nature, Yuma Elementary School District superintendent Darwin Stiffler said, “We have plans in place, but we're doing a tune up.” He also explained that the district is working to put in place a districtwide plan so safety measures are more consistent.
While District 1 administration is still reviewing the new requirements sent down from the state, he said, they are already in the process of working with the Yuma Police Department and the Yuma Fire Department to do threat assessments of all 17 schools in the district.
Stiffler estimated that by the end of the school year the district will have completed its assessments of any vulnerabilities on their campuses, including things like gates and doors, so officials know what to continue to improve upon. He added that because the vast majority of schools in the district are older than other schools in the Yuma area, many do not have the same modern safety measures already built in that newer campuses do.
“Our schools were built when people didn't have these concerns and schools were built to be as open and as accessible as possible,” he said.
Sgt. Melinda Alexander, supervisor for YPD's school services unit, explained that they work with YFD to make sure schools are closed off to the public with the exception of the entry through the front office.
“It's about drawing the line between where the public can go and what is the school grounds,” she said.
Alexander explained that YPD uses the CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) approach to help deter criminal behavior. She said that this could mean exploring the layout of the campuses, especially the older ones, to make sure that trees and shrubbery are all trimmed back so if their department responds to the campus, they can look across the grounds and see if someone is hiding or if something is going on.
Alexander added that by having a coordinated effort with YPD and YFD, they are able to keep schools up to date as to what is and isn't necessary in terms of emergency management plans and keeping students safe.
Stiffler explained, however, that schools have no funds to make any of these safety changes and updates because the money has been zeroed out from the state for the past four or five years. In spite of this, Stiffler said, they plan to continue to knock out items on their “punch list” as they are able.
Alice Byrne Elementary School, for example, he said, is in the process of closing off the campus with new gate doors that can be opened only from the inside so that parents and other visitors will have to come through the front office to enter the campus.
Doors like this, though, Stiffler said, can be pricey.
“It costs about $1,500 to retrofit each of those portals and that school needs four,” he explained. “That's just one of our schools.”
He said that while this particular fix was put in place due in part to a lockdown incident that happened on campus in October, there is a heightened awareness on campuses because of the shooting that occurred in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Visit ADE's website at www.azed.gov/prevention-programs/resources/ to review school safety and prevention procedures and for more information.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.