ST. GEORGE – Parents and guardians checking their children out of Lava Ridge Intermediate School during regular school hours are on the forefront of a new safety initiative soon to be implemented throughout the Washington County School District.
“Parents have to bring an ID to pick up their child from Lava Ridge Intermediate,” said LuAnne Forrest, the district’s director of Student Services/Emergency Services. “It’s a rule we haven’t had in the past.”
The pilot program is going well with few hiccups, Forrest added, although a district-wide policy on what forms of identification will be accepted is still being finalized. Once the policy is formally in place, all schools within the district will be required to follow it, said Forrest.
Access control through a new identification system, student supervision, crisis management and safety assessments were just a few of the topics addressed during recent training for the district’s front office employees or “gatekeepers.”
“Front line security begins with the front desk,” said Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, CEO of Safe Havens International, during her presentation to front office staff attending the meeting in St. George. “You are part of the school’s crisis team. The expectation is for you to respond when you see a dangerous situation. You are no longer expected to wait and call an administrator.”
The district’s new policy on providing identification to check a student out of school is an important step toward making that school a safer environment for everyone, said Shepherd.
“Student supervision is everyone’s job,” she said. “I would rather be overly protective than have a parent think I don’t care enough about their child.”
Students who feel safe at school have better test scores and are less likely to indulge in risky or violent behavior, said Shepherd, an accomplished author and international consultant on school safety and emergency management issues.
“Gatekeepers determine the climate and culture of the school. If a crisis occurs at school, the responses are different for gatekeepers, administrators and teachers,” Shepherd said.
As part of the school crisis team, gatekeepers are expected to prevent, not just respond, to a crisis. Front office workers are expected to know safety procedures and participate fully in safety drills, something the district schedules often throughout the year, said Forrest.
Drills on family reunification during an emergency, lock out and lock down procedures, shelter-in-place situations and evacuation procedures are just a few of the safety measures now being implemented throughout the district.
Food workers and nurses within the school district also received training on biochemical and food defense, which focused on emergency measures in the event of an intentional contamination of the food supply.
Digital, aerial photographs of each school in the district will soon be completed, providing emergency personnel with vital information when confronting a crisis, Forrest added.
“Specific measures are being taken to make our schools safer and more secure,” she said. “We want the community to know that we are constantly planning and training for an emergency.”