OVUHS tightens its safety procedures

BRANDON — To enter Otter Valley Union High School, you must now be buzzed in. It’s one of the new safety measures enacted at OVUHS after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February, and the subsequent threat at Fair Haven Union High School. Prior to those events, all doors were locked except the front lobby doors after the school day began, explained OVUHS Principal Jim Avery.
“When law enforcement was still searching for Jack Sawyer after the Fair Haven threat, there was some concern that he may be planning to go after rival athletic teams like Otter Valley and we had a game that day. We went into lockdown,” Avery said, adding that the threat felt very close to the OVUHS community.
In a letter to parents dated Feb. 24. Avery wrote: “Next week we will be installing a system that will require school visitors to request entrance to the front door then be allowed to enter. This will be a change to our existing way of life, but sadly one that I believe is necessary. Our School Resource Officer Anne Bandy will also be located in the front office area.”
The school community was “genuinely concerned,” Avery told The Reporter April 24.
“In those first few weeks, I got a lot of calls from folks thanking us for locking the front door. People were fearful,” he said. “It was a significant change.”
The school spent “a couple thousand dollars” on the new buzz-entry system, Avery said.
Additionally, OVUHS practices active shooter drills every other week (alternating with fire drills) during which they prepare for a variety of possible real-life scenarios.
Instead of always going into lockdown, OVUHS now practices ALICE Drills. ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) provides preparation and a plan for how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event, according to alicetraining.com.
“It allows us to react to the specifics of an event,” Avery said. “Now we can make decisions in that moment. Depending on where the event occurs, it may make sense for part of the school to go into lockdown and another part to evacuate to a specific place or scatter.”
OVUHS has employed a School Resource Officer (SRO) from the Brandon Police Department since 2000-2001, Avery said, and the school continues to work collaboratively with the local police on continued safety protocols. The school also has security cameras throughout the building.
Looking ahead, the school is considering additional ways to make its entry more secure when it embarks on a scheduled renovation to the front of the building. Possible ideas include funneling traffic into the main office, creating a waiting room for parents and visitors, and locating the SRO office near the entry.
“We’re just in the beginning stages considering those ideas,” Avery said, adding “we’re always reviewing our safety and security protocols to be sure we’re doing all we can for our students.”
Click here to read about a statewide safety assessment of 422 schools recently conducted by local, county, and state law enforcement in partnership with Vermont schools.

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