THE FWSU STORY: Shifting Our Mindset About School Safety

This past Thursday evening, the Fairfax community came together to learn about and discuss the implementation of ALICE. It was a candid and honest conversation about school safety and the need to implement an option-based crisis response plan in the case that our students and staff are confronted with a violent intruder.

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The safety of students and staff is an ongoing concern for all staff members. After two decades as a school administrator and father, there is no other issue that constantly weighs on my mind. It seems that on a weekly basis another incident of a violent intruder occurs in a variety of settings throughout our country. As we are aware, our rural state is not immune to violence and we must learn new skills and develop a different mindset to keep our children safe.

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Last year our school, like several other schools, experienced an incident involving a threat that required us to initiate our emergency safety protocols. We collaborated extensively with state and local law enforcement to resolve the crisis and spent many hours following this experience evaluating and reflecting on how we could improve our crisis response procedures.

 

Our analysis prompted a multi-faceted plan to enhance school safety. Many of the actions were based on “best and promising practices” recommended by the Vermont School Safety Center.

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Prior to the beginning of school, we trained approximately 350 staff members on three campuses in enhanced safety protocols known as ALICE:

  • ALERT – We will get the word out using clear concise language to describe the nature and location of the event.
  • LOCKDOWN – We will continue to lock doors but will spread out and barricade classrooms to deny entry.
  • INFORM – Continuous communication will keep staff informed to allow for informed decision-making.
  • COUNTER – Apply skills of movement, noise, distance, distraction and use our overwhelming number to gain control of the situation in ways that are age and ability appropriate. (This is only if evacuation and lockdown is not possible and a room has been breached.)
  • EVACUATE – Reduce the number of potential targets for the shooter and reduce the chance of injuries resulting from friendly fire when help arrives.

The premise of ALICE is that through consistent practice and by providing everyone with options if faced with a life or death situation, we enhance the chance of survival. These include escaping, barricading doors, and protecting oneself by any means necessary.

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Simultaneously, we have added additional security cameras, began making improvements to our entry points, hired a School Resource Officer (SRO) and established a Supervisory Union Safety Leadership Team comprised of educators, administrators, staff, law enforcement, and first responders to oversee ALICE implementation throughout our system.

Equally important will be our continued efforts to be proactive in supporting all students.  We continue to use pro-social programs to facilitate a strong sense of belonging that provide our student’s agency and voice, foster relationship development, teach important social skills, practice mindfulness, and implement trauma-informed teaching and learning practices.

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We understand that shifting our mindset will take time, practice, reflection, transparency, and ongoing engagement with our community. After Thursday night’s parent meeting, I am confident that together we will successfully continue to enhance the safety and security of our students. Most importantly, we will provide our students with a set of skills that will serve them in all environments throughout their lives.


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Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

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