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Emergency procedures are designed to keep students safe

The day was April 20, 1999. The location: Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire inside the building, killing 15 people, including themselves. While this event wasn’t technically the first "school shooting," it is one of the most famous in United States history.

Since then, other school shootings include Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014. While these two were known for the loss of life they caused, there have been dozens more across the country.

Outside of schools, mass shootings have become a frequent topic in the news, seemingly one after another. Some of the most recent shootings in 2017 occurred in Las Vegas during a country music concert, in New York City on Halloween, and at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, during a Sunday service.

With all of these shootings in and out of schools, how do school administrators across the country respond to ensure the safety of their students?

The answer lies in school emergency procedures, some of which have been newly implemented since the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Geoffrey Hicks, superintendent of schools in the Clarence Central School District, and Kevin Starr, who has been a teacher at Clarence High School for 39 years, recently discussed the subject of school lockdown procedures.

Starr and Hicks agree that the current safety procedures are very different than those of their childhoods.

As Starr explains, "I went to high school in the 1970s. The world was different then. We never gave any thought to the possibility that our school wasn’t a safe place. I’d imagine that there were plans in place, but as students back then, we were pretty well-insulated from having to worry about our safety and security."

Hicks noted that since he was in high school, he has noticed many important changes to school security.

"There have been many changes to school security since I was in high school," he said. "The two biggest changes are the presence of School Resource Officers and mandatory emergency plans that keep the building envelope secure, including keeping exterior doors locked at all times and buzzing people into the building after they have been identified."

Nonetheless, Hicks and Starr both support the new safety procedures, and believe that they prepare students and teachers well for real situations.

"Preparation makes good sense," said Star. "I think that our school does a good job of raising awareness among the kids and the adults in the building. The administration has put procedures in place that would help protect everyone in the event of an emergency," says Starr.

However, Hicks also noted that lockdown procedures are only a fraction of the precautions that schools take when preparing students and faculty properly.

"There are other emergency procedures such as shelter-in-place, lockout, evacuation and early dismissal," he said. "I believe practicing lockdown drills prepares students and staff for a real situation."

"Lockdown procedures," Hicks explained, "are implemented when the building administrator has become aware of a situation in which students and staff should be kept in locked rooms within the school building. The procedures may be implemented as a result of an intruder, biological threat, or other situation requiring students and staff to remain in locked classrooms."

At that point, all students and teachers are moved into the nearest classrooms, where the doors are locked. Inside, everyone moves to a corner or wall so that they may not be visible to a gunman at the door.

Hicks continued, "In a lockdown no one is allowed to enter or leave the classroom or office under any circumstance. Teachers are required to take attendance during the lockdown and note any missing students."

Finally, everybody inside the school is to remain in their locations quietly until they are physically let out of their rooms by an emergency responder or other authority, such as an administrator.

While it is important that schools keep their safety procedures up to date, it is just as important that they look ahead to the future and make sure their plans account for as many different potential scenarios as possible.

In New York State, there are many annual procedures to make sure that these revisions are current.

"The emergency plans are vetted with the New York State Police and Erie County Sheriffs’ [Department], who help us with procedural changes," said Hicks. "Emergency plans for each school building are also shared with the New York State Education Department annually. The federal government and New York State publish guides for safe schools and sample emergency plans."

Overall, to Hicks, having an efficient and protective plan is one thing, but knowing when it needs to be used is just as critical to school safety.

"In my opinion, the best emergency plans stem from a culture in schools where students have positive relationships with faculty and feel comfortable reporting any information on potential threats or things that make them uncomfortable," he said.

"In Clarence, we strive to make sure that every student is positively connected to an adult they can communicate with." In this day and age, safety can no longer be taken for granted.

The phrase, "If you see something, say something" has become more important than ever, and it is crucial that people of all ages understand the importance of how to stay safe in their local schools and communities.

Bryan Renzoni is a sophomore at Clarence High School.


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