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Weakley County Schools address school safety

Weakley County Schools address school safety

The Weakley County Schools system has issued a press release concerning school safety and security measures. Here is the release in its entirety:

Parents, educators and students across the country were shaken to the core last December when the unimaginable happened; an armed gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and took the lives of 20 innocent children and six hard working, dedicated adults.  While the nation is still grappling with developing the best means to assist schools in shoring up their safety and security efforts, Weakley County Schools’ staffs have been reviewing their plans and needs.

“It’s long been a requirement in our state to have in place, and practice regularly, a multi-hazards response plan,” said WCS Director, Randy Frazier. “We’ve had our plan in place for more than 20 years, but since the Columbine tragedy, Oklahoma and September 11, I have to say we’ve seen the need to expand our sights and training to deal with more than just fire drills, earthquake preparedness or tornados.  We now prepare for biological or chemical threats and spills, bomb threats or intruders.”  Frazier continued, “…each school in this county has what is called an Incident Response Team.  These teams are composed of staff members who are interested in being a part of coordinating campus safety efforts – they may possibly have a particular skill which might be critical in responding to an incident – they work closely with their school safety coordinator and our system coordinator, Lorna Benson, to maintain open lines of communication with local law enforcement, fire departments, the emergency management office and other resources.” 

Frazier added that each school, because of the difference in student population and building layout, has tailored their response plan.  “We have a system plan, a template if you will, which is designed to provide continuity across the county in regard to how to respond to certain situations. However, since each school is built differently and deals with different age groups; each school has to make sure the plan is compatible with and meets the unique needs contained in that one location.”  

Frazier said the system’s plan, which was adopted in 2006, was implemented after much research and training. The training, he said, was accomplished by hosting experts in the field such as Michael Dorn, co-author of “Jane’s Teachers’ Safety Guide” and founder of Safe Havens International, and by relying on guidance and partnerships with local emergency response agencies. Frazier also noted that members of each school’s team have participated in CERT (Community Emergency Response Training), and that team members are currently working on completing online training courses offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  “Annually, our school coordinators conduct site safety inspections, review their team assignments, re-confirm their partnerships with local responders and work with their principal to determine their drill schedules.”

Frazier notes the system has dealt well in the past with unpredictable events such as storm damage, bomb threats, minor fires, bus accidents and emotionally charged situations.  “I believe we’ve responded well to each event because we do take preparing and practicing seriously.  We know there is no way to think of everything that could possibly happen – but we also know that by providing opportunities for our staff to ‘talk or walk’ their way through different circumstances, there is a much greater chance that common sense and cool heads will prevail when we’re put to the test.”

Recently, the WCS system was among the 120 plus school systems from across the state that attended the Tennessee School Safety Summit, which was held in Franklin.  Safe Schools Coordinator Lorna Benson, Sheriff Mike Wilson and Emergency Management Director Jamison Peevyhouse were among those who heard from Governor Bill Haslam and experts such as former Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Education, Bill Modzeliski; David Purkey, Assistant Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security; Doug Varney, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and James Bassham, Director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.  Also discussing best practices with the group were nationally recognized safety experts Gregory Thomas and Mike Dorn.  “The day was reassuring,” said Benson, “…starting with the governor restating his intent to make 34 million dollars available to school systems to enhance security, create or expand SRO programs, hire additional school social workers or provide additional training opportunities to staff.   The governor said allocation decisions will be made at the local level, which is as it should be.”  Benson commented that the day also provided validation on many aspects of what Weakley County Schools are already doing to address safety needs and offered some practical ideas for the system to consider adopting in the very near future.  “A common thread among each of the presentations was that, despite the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook, or more recently in Alabama and despite the attention drawn to events like these by the media, schools really are among the safest places for our children to be.” 

As an example, Benson shared some statistics which were reviewed by Mr. Modzeliski.  “On a national level for the school year 1992-93 there were 57 student homicides recorded.   In school year 2009-10, the most recent available data shows that number dropped to a total of 33 and, according to Mr. Modzeliski, 98% of youth homicides occur outside schools.”  Benson continued by saying, again, according to Modzeliski, violent crimes and thefts at school have also dropped:  “We were told there were more than one million incidents of violent crimes and more than 3 million recorded thefts for the ’92-93 school year respectively; those numbers each dropped to below the half million mark for the ’09-10 school year.”  This, according to Benson, is encouraging but doesn’t mean Weakley County Schools can take anything for granted.  “We’re anticipating word soon from both the state and federal government to let us know how we will apply for or receive the intended additional funding; until then, we’ll keep conducting our drills, reviewing our practices and looking at priorities for training and security needs.”

Security expert Gregory Thomas made the point “…School safety is not a school issue.  It is a partnership issue.”  Thomas, according to Benson, stressed that every section of the community is responsible for their schools, from students and staff to emergency responders, civic organizations, businesses, parents, grandparents and local residents.  “We’re fortunate to live in a community that has that kind of support and participation, but safety is a process that constantly changes.  We’ll keep working with all our partners with the goal of keeping our schools as safe as possible.”

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