Thursday April 27, 2017
Last week, the South Burlington school system, in particular the high school, exercised many of its well-practiced safety drills in response to threats to some of its students and staff. It is timely to review the district’s protocol for responses in such critical situations. Staff and students participate in safety drills on a regular basis to include clear the halls, evacuation, shelter-in-place (lock-in), and lockdown routines. In addition, administration and designated safety personnel at each facility work closely with other supporting organizations such as the SBPD, Fire Department, Vermont Department of Public Health, and Howard Center on more detailed safety plans, which anticipate almost thirty different scenarios and include crisis commands, emergency contact numbers, and response plans. Active and table-top drills are scheduled throughout the school year with these coordinated teams. It is important to note that actions taken during a crisis such as this will vary by situation and day to day. This unpredictability over the course of the week may have caused some confusion with observers, particularly parents waiting to re-connect with their children. These actions are, by design, deliberate and intentional, and serve to further ensure the safety of students.
First and foremost, student safety is the district’s top priority. Many parents heard about the lockdown procedure at the high school from their students first. It is the discretionary practice, with a supervising adult’s permission, to allow use of the student’s phone or other device, in silent mode, to communicate during an event such as was experienced last week. Parents, guardians, and even students provided great reassurance and a calming connection during the crisis, which served to support law enforcement’s activities as they worked to assess the threat level and respond accordingly. The potential downside of informal communication between students and others during an event is that it can result in inaccurate or speculative information being shared as “facts” and create an unnecessary level of anxiety for all. Parents played an integral role in last week’s events connecting with their children during the most stressful periods of time in a supportive and comforting manner, despite their own concerns.
Once students, staff, and facilities are secure and the superintendent is briefed by law enforcement, plans are determined whether or not to resume school operations, and if not, how to safely allow exit of students from the facility. It is usually at that point in time when the superintendent or building administrator will execute a communication plan. This process would determine means of communication (phone, email, and/or text) and the distribution list for any communications (e.g. district-wide or by facility). These decisions are guided by law enforcement’s assessment of the threat and impact to ongoing operations at each of our schools. During last week’s series of incidents, by way of example, FHTMS operated as normal, only curtailing outside activities because of the proximity to the high school campus.
Many of our families and staff have children and loved ones in other facilities during the school day. This knowledge can cause anxiety during a crisis which is limited to one building, but affects many including students with siblings in the schools. Administration considered this information when it made the decision to close schools on Friday, April 21st prior to the vacation week.
The collaboration between city and schools worked flawlessly, both through the efforts of the SBPD and in setting up a location at City Hall for parents/guardians and district staff to support one another while our professionals did their jobs.
Our superintendent and his administrative team, in the meantime, will be preparing to thoughtfully welcome students back to school on Monday, May 2.
More information is available at www.sbschools.net under the “Our District” and “Policies and Procedures” section:
EMERGENCY PLANNING/SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
Emergency Plan Table of Contents