Working through summer to keep Idaho's kids safe in school

Working through summer to keep Idaho's kids safe in school

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by Doug Petcash

Bio | Email | Follow: @DougPetcashKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on May 22, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 26 at 1:20 AM

BOISE -- With schools letting out very soon for the summer, parents and students won't have to worry about school safety for three months. However, leaders and staff on the district and state levels will keep working over the summer to make sure Idaho's kids are safe when classes start up again next fall and far into the future.

Back in February, in the wake of the December killings of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, KTVB looked into what Idaho schools were doing to protect our kids. Now, we are examining the security strategies being developed and the progress being made since our last report.  

Examples on the school district level

Idaho school districts each have their own security plans and systems. 

The Meridian School District is the state's largest district. Its many security measures include surveillance cameras on school campuses that administrators can access on laptops. School resource officers also patrol the buildings and have offices in them. District spokesman Eric Exline says a close working relationship with city police has gotten even stronger since the tragedy in Connecticut.   

Among the many measures in the rural Garden Valley School District, classroom doors lock from the inside and access to the building is limited to one entrance. The district also took everybody through lockdown and intruder training again. 

At Skyview High School in Nampa there is something brand new and unique. Just about every adult in the school now wears a transmitter badge around their neck that can be tracked. Its buttons can be used to call for help in case of a medical or other emergency. If necessary, it can trigger a lockdown.

A private donation paid for this system. Leaders have been told Skyview is the only school in the country using this technology.  

"In all honesty, I think that this device is hopefully going to change how we respond to active shooters, how we respond to critical incidences inside of the school," said Brad Ford with the Nampa Police Department. 

On the state level 

While individual districts refine their plans, brainstorming is going on at the state level too.

The State School Safety Task Force reconvened shortly after the Sandy Hook killings. Six years ago the task force assessed school safety across the state and put new practices into place. Now, it is doing it again.

"The ultimate goal is for every student, staff member and parent to feel safe and secure in Idaho schools," said Matt McCarter with the Idaho State Department of Education.

McCarter coordinates the task force. It is working along side retired Idaho State Police Director Colonel Jerry Russell on the project. Governor Butch Otter tapped Russell to work on the school safety issue just three weeks after Sandy Hook.

The goal is straight forward. It is basically to do an assessment of all 115 Idaho school districts, identify strengths and weaknesses, and make a plan.

"I think we need to take the time we need to get it right," said McCarter. 

The key is the safety threat assessment. The state is developing an online system based on one in Texas.

"The tool the state's deploying just simply asks schools what do you have in place related to safety and security, what's critical, and it identifies what's in place and what isn't so schools know what to focus on," said McCarter. 

Another point of focus for the task force is improving communication between schools and first responders. It plans to test a pilot program at three rural schools this summer.  

"So we're looking at connecting schools to local, county level emergency operations centers," said McCarter. "So at the push of a button, schools have direct communication with EOC, Emergency Operations Centers."

The task force is also looking at mental health issues and resources, and at setting up a research repository where districts can get security information, resources and support.

One idea is to create a center for school safety; a group of people that would oversee and have ownership of the school safety issue. "Technical experts, folks that can help hold districts' hands to say if you want to go down this road, here are some areas of contemplation, here's the training we can provide you," said McCarter.

McCarter anticipates the State School Safety Task Force will have specific recommendations for the legislature to consider when lawmakers return next January.

State Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, sponsored a bill during this year's session that called for districts to work with sheriff's offices to develop security plans that work best for each community.

The bill ultimately failed, but he believes this communication provision is very important. 

"I think it's logical to ensure that law enforcement is involved in every school security plan, and that we practice those security plans that we put in place," said Hagedorn.

And be it armed teachers, metal detectors, surveillance cameras or something else, Sen. Hagedorn believes a successful plan includes deterrents. 

"That's what we have to think about when we think about security, is creating enough deterrents to make that target to a bad guy not practical to go after," said Hagedorn. 
   
Arming teachers

The Garden Valley School Board and administration have been looking into whether to arm certain, well-trained teachers and staff. Superintendent Randy Schrader tells KTVB that discussion has been put on hold while they wait to see what the State School Safety Task Force comes up with. 
 

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