Letter to the editor: ANWSD focuses on school safety

Student and staff safety is essential to our entire educational endeavor. It is our top priority. We continue to share in the nation’s collective grief following the Parkland, Fla., and now Santa Fe, Texas school shootings. As our shock and grief increases and decreases in intensity, we hope to remain alert and sensitive to school safety issues.
The ANWSD has developed extensive school safety policies and procedures, and will continue to review those directives. We invite members of the public to review and communicate with us about policies and procedures that are directly related to school safety and emergency preparedness, especially policies on School Crisis Prevention and Response (F32) and Firearms (C5) available on our website at anwsd.org.
On May 14, we approved revisions to policy that will ensure greater accountability about the effectiveness of our school crisis prevention and response procedures. In addition to our review of policy and procedure, we think it is important to make clear the ongoing work in this area as well as some of our key priorities for ensuring a safe educational environment for all.
First, we believe that the most important thing that we can do to protect our students and staff is to create a sense of welcome and belonging for all our students, families, and educators. We want to know each student by name, by strength, and by need. It is well known that the Addison Northwest School District is a leader at creating a nurturing and welcoming climate for all students.
We applaud our District staff work in the areas of student and staff wellness, our strong systems of supports for both behavior and emotional issues, the fostering of family and community engagement, and their continued efforts to build a caring and responsible educational community.
We are particularly supportive of restorative practices within our district-wide positive behavioral intervention and supports system. There is nothing more important to school safety than making sure that every member of our school community knows that they belong.
Second, we continue to work to ensure that our buildings are as safe as possible. Passage of the most recent Energy and Security Bond vote was essential in developing greater security systems as Ken Sullivan, our Director of Building, Grounds & Safety, reported at our community meeting on May 3. We have conducted safety and security audits for each of our schools. These reports have helped us prioritize the safety needs for each school.
Here are some of the safety precautions we have in place at schools throughout the district:
•  Security cameras.
•  Locked external doors with intercom and buzz entry systems.
•  Greeters at main doors every morning.
•  Coverings on external and internal windows.
•  Classroom doors that remain in locked position.
•  Emergency preparation drills and trainings.
•  Instruction that encourages and provides clear avenues for students to report suspicious behaviors.
As we consider ways of developing protocols and procedures that will prepare us, in so far as possible, to prevent and respond to unexpected crises quickly and appropriately, we are unequivocally against the arming of our teachers and school staff. As a general principle, we desire to have fewer guns in our schools, not more.
Third, we have engaged our local police departments, our fire departments as well as medical emergency units in ongoing conversations about emergency preparedness. We thank them for their partnership, and we look forward to learning more about school safety and emergency preparedness from them.
We thank all the participants who attended our May 3 community forum in which we discussed short and long term plans to address safety, especially our next steps for on-going training. We especially thank Chief Merkel, our local Vergennes police, and our State police for helping us understand what to do in the event of a crisis. Please contact our Superintendent JoAn Canning directly to learn more about this event and the outcomes of this community meeting.
Fourth, we know that families play an important role in helping schools remain safe. We ask for your vigilance and support to ensure that any safety concern is immediately reported. If you or your children see something, say something. Call your school administrator — or if it is an emergency — call 911 immediately.
Here are some other suggestions that we believe will support all of our efforts to promote a safe learning environment:
•  Please discuss school safety with your children.
•  Stay connected and monitor your student’s social media activities.
•  Familiarize yourself with warning signs provided by the Sandy Hook Promise such as: obsession with firearms; excessive over-reactions for seemingly minor reasons; sudden negative changes in academic performance; extreme feelings of isolation or social withdrawal; making overt threats of violence whether spoken, written, with pictures, videos, and/or gestures.
•  Lock any firearms in a properly functioning storage component or locker.
•  Ensure your children do not have access to firearms while visiting other homes.
•  Read about district emergency preparedness and communications.
Fifth, we know that Districts and schools alone cannot end gun violence. Therefore, at our May 14 Board meeting, we agreed to publicly endorse the “Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America,” authored by the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence. Please follow this link and read this call to action: curry.virginia.edu/prevent-gun-violence.
Like the authors of this call, we believe in a comprehensive national and local effort that addresses: universal approaches promoting safety and well-being for everyone; practices for reducing risk and promoting protective factors for persons experiencing difficulties; and interventions for individuals where violence is present or appears imminent.
ANWSD Board Members
John Stroup
George Lawrence
Laurie Gutowski
Diana Raphael
Chris Cousineau
Tom Borchert
Laurie Childers
Sue Rakowski
Kristina MacKulin
Mark Koenig
and Finn Yarborough

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