The school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was fresh on the minds of parents and teachers on Monday as a large group of concerned parents came to St. Helena High School to listen to a presentation about the St. Helena Unified School District’s School Safety Plan.
The half-hour presentation, which was provided in both English and Spanish in two separate rooms to accommodate the large number of attendees, was the result of two years of focused preparation by the district’s team, consisting of principals, teachers, administrators, police and fire department officials.
The message on Monday night, delivered repeatedly by Superintendent Marylou Wilson and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Allen was “Your child’s safety is our number one priority.”
The purpose of the plan, according to the district’s PowerPoint presentation, was “To build partnerships and share information to be more aware, and better prepared to react and mitigate emergency incidents that occur on a school campus.” The plan was mandated by California Senate Bill 187 “The Comprehensive School Safety Plan.”
The number one concern Monday night seemed to be how the school district has prepared for emergency and disaster responses and the effectiveness of the drills that the schools perform to prepare students and staff. These parental concerns seemed to be directly tied to the devastating epidemic of mass shootings at schools that have captured the attentions of parents, teachers, administrators and students in recent weeks.
The administrators talked at length about the need for these emergency drills, how the teaching staff has been trained to respond to emergencies, the tools that are available to every teacher during an emergency, and the step-by-step processes by which each school campus has implemented the overall plan.
Included in these messages was the explicit request that “If you see something, say something” to principals, teachers or staff, so that it can be immediately transmitted throughout the district.
Allen said that the fire and police departments are constantly monitoring this communication channel, and each and every teacher has the ability to initiate an emergency lockdown. Allen said only an appropriate administrator can release students from such an emergency lockdown after a threat has been contained.
Wilson and Allen also spoke of the infrastructure investments the school district has made to “harden” both the school rooms and the communication process itself, so that a threatening individual cannot take control of the system.
These investments have included putting blinds in each classroom that prevent a potential assailant from peering into a classroom, and installind door locks that can only be opened from within a classroom during a threat.
Wilson said that these investments alone – as well as an increased number of security cameras on campuses – came as a substantial expenditure to the school district, but that they should help in the ongoing quest to provide for the safety of students in the event of an “active threat” situation.
After the presentation, questions regarding the differences in definition between an emergency drill and a lockdown circumstance were answered, as well as questions regarding the resources available to students to notify officials of threats or suspicious activity that they might see.
To these specific concerns, Allen spoke of the need for continued drills – stating that the legal mandate was to have at minimum one or two drills per year. But, she said, increasing the number of drills helped students understand how the process works for their safety. Such drills also build “muscle memory” through repetition, she said.
When one parent asked about providing staff and teachers with concealed weapons to confront an active shooter, Wilson responded that the idea had, in fact, been discussed by the school board. “I said at that time,” Wilson responded, “that I would never ask our teachers or staff to carry weapons in school.”