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More security changes being proposed at EASD Visitor policies, access points reviewed and enhanced; second officer considered
By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
A letter will soon be going out to parents of Ephrata Area School District students highlighting not only current security measures in place on a daily basis, but new procedures and policies being considered to take safety to another level.
On Monday night at the regular meeting of the Ephrata School Board, assistant superintendent Kimberly Schlemmer pointed out that the only commonality between all cases of school violence is that no one ever thinks it can happen where they live. Nonetheless, she detailed efforts which had already been commonplace through out Ephrata schools, as well as new efforts being taken since the most recent tragedy at Sandy Hook.
Updating members of the school board, Schlemmer was joined by Ephrata’s School Resource Officer (SRO), Pete Sheppard.
Schlemmer made it clear that school safety is the responsibility of every student and employee of the district to assure all possible measures are consistently followed to prevent a number of different hazards. Having and SRO is a huge first step, but Schlemmer pointed out the input and help the district had received from Ephrata Police Chief William Harvey, IU 13, and even the district attorney’s office.
For security purposes, Schlemmer’s presentation was a general overview of measures in place. More specific aspects of district safety plans will not be made public to assure they are in no way compromised.
Each building has its own crisis teams already in place. In addition, the district has a safe school committee. Quarterly faculty meetings have been focused on a number of safety issues.
"People from every building come together to talk about safety topics, such as what is new and current as well as projects underway district-wide," said Schlemmer.
Schlemmer discussed the districts "all-hazard" plan which has been written specific to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. The all-hazard plan looks at natural hazards, such as created by the weather. It also reviews where schools are located within the flood plan and plans for certain drills within each building.
Human-related aspects of the all-hazards plan include the existence of a school safety team as well as things like wet floor signs and preventative maintenance risks.
But chief on the minds of most parents are the hazards posed by a criminal element. The district’s all-hazards plan addresses this concern with drills and procedures as well as vulnerability and risk assessments.
Several years ago the district had already changed the clearance process for all chaperones and volunteers. This includes a background check with the Pennsylvania State Police. A number of memorandums of understanding (MOU’s) have been filed with local police departments, which have also assisted the district with risk and vulnerability assessments.
Schoolwide, the district continues to maintain a strong policy against bullying and harassment.
"We have fostered good relations with our local emergency responders," pointed out Schlemmer. "We keep looking for ways to make sure our students and staffs are safe.
The district has also set up a means by which students can anonymously communicate tips through both text and e-mail lines. Sheppard took advantage of the recent wellness day at the high school to promote this new program. And already students have tested out the system to make sure that their tips are indeed anonymous.
"Kids were testing to see if this was really anonymous," said Sheppard. "It really IS anonymous. We have no way of tracing the tips we receive back to the sender."
Students can text 87411 and then key in Ephrata to have tips routed to Officer Sheppard as well as to Schlemmer and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop.
"This is good for students to alert us to drugs, violence, anything useful," added Sheppard. "It is even open for suicidal friends…for whatever."
Since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, the district has re-doubled its efforts to assure school safety. In the days immediately following, Sheppard and administration officials visited each school to review the building’s safety plans with the principals and staff. Emergency preparedness checklists were also examined.
Throughout the district, security practices have been reviewed and tightened. Lock down drills are now conducted at least twice a year, in addition to the monthly fire drills. Staff is required to be wearing their ID badges at all times and all access to buildings is placed through a very strictly-controlled protocol. Even those personnel expecting a visitor must have their name placed on a list at least 24 hours in advance of the visit. All visitors are expected to have an escort the entire time they are in the building.
Also as a result of thorough reviews, the district is now looking to make several enhancements to school access, including using at least two different buzzer systems to create a vestibule buffer zone in each building. Cameras have already been added and tweaked but in the cases of both the middle school and high school, entrances will likely need to be updated in order to achieve these buffer zones.
District superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati said the administration would be bringing proposals to the board for approval as early as the March meeting for entrance changes to both buildings.
"They need some reconfiguring and that’s not something our crew can do," explained Rosati. "They are simply outdated. Hopefully we will have that for the March meeting. The rest of the buildings we are putting through on our maintenance budgets."
There is a district-wide expectation of all personnel to regularly review the hazards plan checklist and to keep them close by. Staff is trained to mentally rehearse possible hazard incidents following the "but, what, if, then" pattern.
Schlemmer also suggested the district may consider adding an additional SRO, especially if Governor Tom Corbet is able to come through with additional funding for schools.
Even students are being given an active role in making sure schools remain safe. New ALICE training teaches students to run, hide and fight when confronted with an intruder.
"Curling up in a ball only makes someone a sitting duck," added Schlemmer, who said an informational letter to parents was in the final draft stage for distribution in the near future. The letter would detail measures the district is taking to address safety concerns.
Sheppard added that while there was so much talk of doom and gloom with regard to the topic, he stressed it was best to be trained and prepared but never need to use it.
"We hope for the best, but train for the worst," said Sheppard.
Yet, for all the changes, training and provisions the district can make, there is still no way to completely prevent actions such as the Sandy Hook tragedy.
"You can’t stop crazy," said Schlemmer. "What happened at Sandy Hook nothing could have prevented unless that person had been diagnosed and had gotten the right treatment. Even someone we know well can be having an off day or there can be a problem brought onto a school campus."
Schlemmer repeatedly stressed that safety is something everyone must work together to achieve.
"Everyone has to keep safety a proactive priority every day and not just a reaction to the most recent national tragedy," added Schlemmer. "We really sought out help from everyone and everywhere we could, to make sure our schools are safe."
For additional information on the Ephrata Area School District, visit easdpa.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your feedback and questions via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. More SCHOOL BOARD, page A11