All OCSU schools have a crisis team that meets regularly to review the crisis plan for their building. Regularly scheduled drills allow staff and students to become familiar with procedures to follow in the case of an emergency. Teams attend events like the Governor’s School Safety Conference in order to gain additional knowledge and to network with experts. Our message to students is, “If you see something, say something”.
One of the great strengths of OCSU is our staff’s awareness of the importance of building relationships with students. As more and more students and families in our system are experiencing trauma and crisis, we know the importance of providing tools for staff to support these families. You may have heard from your administrators and teachers that they are focusing on social-emotional learning in order to strengthen staff and student skills in this area. We continue to work with community partners to fill much-needed positions such as school-based clinicians and home-school coordinators so that students who need help are able to access it in a timely manner.
In February we received an email from Lieutenant Walter Smith from the Vermont State Police notifying us that he has assigned troopers to each of our schools for the purpose of building relationships with students and staff. Troopers will be doing periodic visits and may be available to attend special events. We greatly appreciate this partnership with law enforcement and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to build positive relationships.
Each year our schools are able to have a safety audit done by VSBIT, our insurance company. The audit provides recommendations to improve safety measures at the school. In addition, VSBIT offers safety grants so that schools have access to funds to implement the recommendations they receive. In the past that grant has been used to fund locks for classroom doors, cameras, radios, safety glass, main entrance security systems, etc.
Vermont schools are lucky to have access to many school safety resources from the Vermont School Safety Center (http://schoolsafety.vermont.gov/). These resources include trainings, both in-person and virtual, and support with developing and updating crisis plans. They recently did an after-action phone conference call to debrief the shooting that took place on the Montpelier High School campus in January. During the call the superintendent and the principal provided valuable information regarding the procedures they followed and the lessons they learned from the incident. They stressed the importance of strong relationships between schools and law enforcement officials and being intentional about clear, concise communications with students, families, and the community.
As school safety continues to be a very real concern we will continue to stay up-to-date on the latest information. In May we will be sending at least one person from each school to be trained in ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate), and those people will work with their crisis team to plan for next steps in each of their schools. We will make sure that students and staff are as prepared as they can be, so that they can respond appropriately in an emergency situation.