By Jon Sills, Superintendent, and Marylou Sallee, Assistant Superintendent of the Bedford Schools
Schools have always attended to the safety of their students, whether through thoughtful dismissal processes, teaching students to respect each other’s personal spaces, or promulgating rules regarding and consequences for dangerous behaviors.
But of course, during the past two decades, we have been forced to add to those practices a set of protocols and capital investments aimed to prevent and respond to catastrophic emergencies that put students’ and staff’s lives at risk. At the same time, with more and more students experiencing trauma in their lives, we have needed to evolve clear and effective responses to prevent self-harm or the harming of others.
And, we have become acutely aware that effective learning does not take place when students do not feel emotionally safe, whether from bullying or malicious teasing, sexual harassment, racism, or social isolation.
How We Prepare for Crises
Several years ago, in the wake of Sandy Hook, we convened a task force to review our safety plans and procedures, many of which had been in place ever since Columbine. These included a district-wide Crisis Committee and regular “lockdown” drills at all four schools. The task force, comprised of school personnel, school resource officers, parents, and security professionals, recommended, and the school committee approved, that we:
- Move to the more flexible A.L.I.C.E. protocol in lieu of the more rigid lock-down response;
- Lock all doors and create lines of sight (either by space modifications or the installation of front door cameras) to all front doors, so that visual confirmation may proceed admission of visitors to all of our schools;
- Add a special film to large plate glass doors and windows to prevent a shooter from being able to shatter glass to gain entry; and
- Continue the critical work of educating our students to be upstanders to stop bullying and to provide critical information should they hear about potential dangers.
Improvements Planned for This Year
Presently, we are exploring a few technical improvements to our safety systems. We plan to implement a communication capability that would enable every staff member to immediately alert all police vehicles of an intruder, which will save minutes in response time, and key in the exact, and ever-changing location of said intruder. Also, thanks to the suggestions made by several parents and staff, we intend to implement an identification process for visitors that will add a layer of safety to the existing visual recognition process, because not all visitors are known to the school receptionists. As part of this plan, we are looking to add a vestibule to the front entrance at Lane, since it is the only school that presently does not have one.
Balancing Safety with Privacy – Cameras and the Challenge of Dangerous Bus Behavior
We have long sought to balance safety concerns with privacy needs, and have resisted calls to install cameras in our schools. However, over the past few years, we have experienced a range of dangerous behaviors on a number of buses- the nearly full buses on several Davis and Lane Bedford routes, and the elementary bus that takes over an hour and a half to bring students home to Boston. The behaviors have included students getting out of their seats, student to student conflict, throwing objects, etc. For the first time, we are considering adding cameras to these specific buses, keeping in mind that buses are the one place that groups of students are unsupervised during the school day, and we cannot afford to have monitors on each bus. While we have monitors on the METCO bus and have taken other creative measures, the length of the ride presents a tremendous behavioral challenge. Stay tuned for notice of an opportunity for family input on this issue.
Editor’s Note: With thanks to Superintendent Sills and Assistant Superintendent Sallee for sharing the contents of their blog with The Citizen’s readers. The next installment will deal with Emotional Safety in the Bedford Schools