School Safety Letter from Principal Jackson

Dear ARHS Parents and Guardians,

Over the last day or so, I have received several emails from parents and guardians regarding the recent school shooting in Florida. Each essentially posed the same question: what does ARHS do to prevent such things from happening here? There was a very clear emphasis on prevention. The interest was not on how would we respond in the event of a school shooting. The focus, instead, was on what we do to increase the likelihood that something like this doesn’t happen here.

Below I summarize our work on the prevention front and, as well, review our response procedures.

Prevention

A basic assumption has to do with signs – the belief that perpetrators have left a trail of clues that pointed to their troubled state and that, if only someone had noticed or paid attention, the violence could have been prevented. What follows from this is that the eyes and ears of the ARHS adults are our most important first-line defense.

ARHS is organized to pay attention. We have developed very strong reporting norms that apply to every adult in the building. The mantra is: ‘when in doubt, report’. Every year, in August, before students arrive, our counselors review with the entire faculty and staff their reporting obligations. This includes not only who to report to and how, if they observe or encounter a troubling situation, but, more importantly, what are the signs and indicators they should be alert to. An important category are students’ words or writings that reference suicidal ideation, an intent to self-harm or harm others or include any references to violence. These could be overheard, found in student papers or journals or even in a doodle that appears in a notebook. The training emphasis is this: ‘if it turns your head, has your attention if only in a mild way or otherwise leaves you with an ‘uh-oh; feeling, then you should refer this information to a guidance counselor or administrator. You shouldn’t try to interpret it or explain it way. Just refer’.

And this works. Every year, I add to my list of ‘great catches’ that faculty have made – situations where they’ve read the signs and signals of distressed students and didn’t hesitate to bring it to the attention of someone equipped to respond.

Beyond the eyes and ears of the adults, there are also organizational structures and routines that keep the school’s attention focused on students who are challenged or struggling. There are several groups that meet on a set schedule to develop and monitor intervention plans for these students. This work includes enlisting the support of outside providers and staying in close communication with parents or guardians.

Another important routine is our threat assessment protocol.  Several ARHS faculty members have been trained to assess if a student-issued threat is transient or substantive and, then, to determine an appropriate course of action. This work is conducted in conjunction with APD and, as well, actively involves families.

Lastly, there is also our anti-bullying and anti-harassment work. The heart of this is maintaining a school culture that promotes inclusion and acceptance. This is an affirmative agenda, one that extends beyond simply discouraging bullying and harassment. We have programming that supports this work throughout the school year. On our website, we also have an anonymous reporting function that allows anyone in the ARHS community to bring their bullying and harassment concerns forward. These reports prompt investigations by school personnel.

Response

At the beginning of every school year, we conduct emergency response drills with the entire school. All students and adults are involved. APD is an active partner in these drills. They attend and provide us with feedback, These drills include lock down, shelter in place and even our response should we receive a tornado warning. We will refresh ourselves on these practices at the March faculty meeting.

Last year, we augmented our traditional lock-down and shelter in place procedures with the ALICE framework. ALICE encourages schools to be more active in their emergency response approach. Lock-down and shelter in place both have faculty, staff and students behind a locked doors. However, ALICE encourages schools to have as part of their emergency response plans options that include evacuation, barricading doors and distraction. We believe these measures complement well our traditional practices and align us with the best,current thinking in the emergency preparedness field.

This year, every desktop computer in the school was equipped with an app that allows direct, real-time communication with the Amherst Police Department. In any emergency, response time is the critical variable. If a threat were to occur, rather than having to communicate with the main office, which would, then, in turn, communicate with APD, faculty and staff are able to direct their concern immediately to APD. Like with 911, the communication can pinpoint the location of the sender.

Lastly, over the last few years, we have added two security measures to all our classrooms and offices. The first is that our Facilities department swapped out all classroom door locks to enable doors to be secured from the inside. And, they also installed shades on all hallway-facing classroom windows and doors.

I hope this helps. If you have thoughts about other measures worth considering, please forward them. If you just have further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you.

Mark Jackson,  Principal

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