School safety concerns are splashed across every source of media recently, and with good reason. Such tragic events give all of us pause. We empathize deeply with those affected by senseless violence and mourn the loss of innocent life. These events cause each of us to look at ourselves and ask how could this have happened, and how would we respond if we were somehow thrust into a similar situation.
Thankfully, Kings Canyon Unified has worked closely with law enforcement over the course of many years to scrutinize the issues surrounding school safety, and adjust our campus responses accordingly. The number of security cameras has increased, as has the number of uniformed school resource officers. Doors and locks have been replaced so that they can be locked by staff from the inside without stepping outside into harm’s way. Schools practice lockdown drills on a regular basis. With respect to preventative measures, the number of social-emotional support personnel (school social workers, psychologists, family counselors, and transition counselors) has grown from 9 to 32. These licensed and credentialed professionals meet with students daily to provide support, offer coping strategies, and keep a finger on the pulse of those struggling with the issues of their daily lives.
Annually, all schools are required to update their school site safety plans at the start of each calendar year. School Site Councils, District Office Administrators, and Governing Board members review and approve those plans, with a copy kept at sites and at the District Office. Law enforcement, parents, school staff all have input to those plans as they are updated each year. Equally important are the conversations we continue to have with students about their critical role in reporting any activity or concern that could lead to endangerment of others. To their credit, our students and staff have demonstrated greater awareness in this regard, and they are indeed reporting concerns in a timely fashion. Recent evidence of this occurred at Reedley High School, where staff became aware of alarming social media posts one evening. District officials were on the phone, and involved in late night conversations with Reedley Police Administration, who put their officers into motion that night at the home of the suspect; thus assuring that any threat was investigated and resolved prior to the start of school the next morning.
Ultimately, we have to work together in our communities, schools, hospitals, and all public settings to avoid becoming complacent or matter-of-fact with our crisis training. Even prior to the recent tragedy in Florida, Kings Canyon Unified sent seven administrators to a training known as A.L.I.C.E. training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), which focused on appropriate responses in the event of an active shooter. Reedley Police Department sent two officers as well, so that the collaboration about content of the training would be open, honest, and informed. District team members are formulating new scenarios and plans for training so that school staff will recognize how critical it is to understand each type of response and the setting in which it would be appropriate. The latest training methods expand upon the Run…Hide…Fight training that has been our basic framework. The seven trainees from KCUSD are finalizing their certification (by exam) and will be available to train here within our District.
Current training exercises emphasize that each of us, young and old, can be taught to respond as automatically to an active shooter situation as we have been trained to do with a building that has caught on fire. Fire near you? Know and practice exit routes. Smoke filling the room? Get close to the floor to enhance your breathing. Clothing on fire? Smother it with a coat or blanket, or roll around on the ground if need be. Growing in our students and staff, that same automatic response to varied active shooter situations can be done. Newer training methods offer avenues for preparing students to react to a hostile intruder without creating a sense of anxiety. Protecting all our children by instilling confidence rather than worry is indeed possible. The emphasis is on remaining safe and thinking clearly about options in a tense moment. That is certainly what we want our children to do in any situation that requires they think and act quickly.
Our school communities have shown they are ready, willing, and able to prepare themselves to think and respond to save lives. That’s the mindset we will continue grow.