Locals already working on safe schools

While school safety is grabbing attention nationwide, this community has been focused on it since the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School 3 1/2 years ago and even before.

So while some local youth in Marysville, Lakewood and Arlington are feeling empowered by the nationwide movement and plan to participate in student-led marches March 14 and April 20, Emily Wicks, communications director with the Marysville School District, said many in the community are still healing.

“In October of 2014, our community experienced first-hand the horror of a senseless school shooting. Unfortunately, we were not the last community to experience such tragedy,” Wicks said. “Our responsibility as educators is to keep students safe on campus, and to encourage respectful dialog and expression of ideas and beliefs. We stand beside our students in their advocacy and share our sadness for the loss of life in these senseless acts of violence.”

MSD acting superintendent Jason Thompson also supports the students in their participation.

“We are proud of the student representatives who are taking action for something they believe in. This is a good lesson in democracy and their right to have a voice in government. Students feeling passion and advocacy about an issue can be a powerful learning experience… While the school district is not sponsoring either activity, we stand united with our students,” he says in an email.

Thompson goes on to say that students need to feel safe no matter what they do on those days.

“Some students may elect to march, while others may choose not to. We will provide supervision for students on campus in either case,” he said. “That said we want to ensure all students feel safe and respected no matter what they choose to do.”

He added that classes will be operating and that attendance will be taken. But students who participate in the on-campus marches will be excused. Thompson said younger students will not be marching, but there may be age-appropriate activities planned to share thoughts on these issues.

Wicks reminded everyone to show compassion.

“This is a particularly sensitive topic for our district as this year’s graduating class at M-P were freshmen, as were all of the victims” of the shooting, she says in her email.

MARYSVILLE

The city of Marysville, meanwhile, shared ideas on what is being done in the short- and long-term to try to keep schools safe, as that discussion continues nationwide.

“Because we have already been through this type of tragedy in our community, we have already partnered with the school district to implement some significant measures to help keep our students safe,” Mayor Jon Nehring said.

Examples include:

•Having more Student Resource Officers, going from two to five, has been a short-term solution, and they hope to add more for the long-term. The officers develop relationships with students that can lead to preventative information, Nehring said.

•Increased “active shooter” and “crises response” training for police, Fire/EMS and school personnel. •Continued communication between the city and school district.

•Communication with students, parents, teachers and all others. The prevention of a potential incident a couple of weeks ago in Everett is a good example of people paying attention, communicating and then following up, the mayor said.

Nehring said: Marysville police follow up on all reports regardless of whether they seem credible or not. “We take any reports of potential violence very seriously and will respond accordingly.” As for the long term, Nehring said everyone needs to do their part.

“…I believe we really need a sea of change in how we deal with those around us,” he said. …”We need to be present and genuinely involved with those who we are connected to (particularly our youth).”

He added that people need to pay attention to what people are writing on social media, what they are saying, and what they are going through to prevent potential future tragedies. “If something doesn’t sound or feel right, it needs to be reported to the proper authorities every time,” he says.

He added he is proud of how the community came together after the M-P shooting.

“I think we all realize how critical it is to prioritize one another and take care of one another more now after going through what we did. We need to show our kids how much we value them and that help is available for whatever is needed, whenever needed.”

Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith said Wednesday that these measures are working well, but he and other law enforcement officials are always talking about what more can be done.

He also applauds the students for being active in the process.

“It’s the American Way,” he said. “It’s great for the kids to step up.”

But he said too much attention is being placed on gun control, and that only touches the surface of the problem.

“It’s a value-based, societal issue,” he said, adding he would support enhanced background checks for gun control. He said the bigger underlying issues are problems related to communities and families. “To save our kids we need to get our parents and communities involved,” Smith said.

ARLINGTON

Police Chief Jonathan Ventura recognizes that school shootings are a sensitive subject. However, he said, “I think it’s good that we have these discussions, and there’s a lot we can learn from these incidents,” he said. “If not, we will repeat mistakes.”

Ventura served in the Navy, and has been in law enforcement for 20 years in Arlington and California that included duties as a school resource officer and active shooter instructor. But he doesn’t advocate for or against guns. “The knee-jerk reaction is to immediately go after guns and gun control,” he said.

From Ventura’s standpoint, similar to Chief Smith’s, he believes the bigger topic is to look more at the root causes of what sets off a student or individual to target a school. “We’re missing the root cause, which is the mental health issues and degradation of morals, values and other societal issues,” he said.

He said law enforcement and school districts need to maintain strong partnerships and consult each other regularly on issues of campus safety.

In general, he said the U.S. needs to “harden targets.” Public places such as airports, courts and government buildings have security checkpoints with metal detectors, he said, adding so should schools.

“That’s the logical thing to me to better secure our schools,” Ventura said, adding it’s a common site among California schools. He acknowledges that security upgrades could be costly.

He added that schools should be single-entry with a surveillance camera that monitors all comings and goings, with exit doors on campus locked during school hours. “We don’t need schools to be prisons or impenetrable fortresses, but there has to be some kind of screening,” he said.

Arlington Public Schools has identified short- and long-term actions for safety, Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said. Some were put in place immediately, such as installing a gate at the Post Middle School entry and removing shrubbery to eliminate hiding spots.

More security measures were included in last month’s bond proposal that was defeated. “Other actions were embedded in the school bond proposal, such as secured entryways and video cameras,” Sweeting said.

Another part of the bond would have funded upgrades to the foyer at Arlington High School that leads into the cavernous commons area and classrooms beyond. The project would have fortified the entry to be more like walking into an airport single-point check-in area, similar to the type of secured entry at the new Lakewood High School.

The district has safety and security protocols that they assess continually for improvement, and trained staff to address potential mental health, depression, bullying and other issues.

Like in Marysville, a SafeSchools Alert tipline is available on the district and all school websites and is monitored 24/7 for students, staff, parents and community members to inform the district of any concerns.

“If anyone sees or hears something, they can alert us immediately,” Sweeting said. “Students can also tell a teacher, counselor, principal or other trusted adult.”

On the mental health front, Ventura pointed out that the state Legislature in 2016 passed an extreme risk protection order law. It directs a person to temporarily surrender their firearms and concealed weapons license if deemed to pose a significant danger to themselves or others.

If Florida had such a law, the shooting tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School may have been prevented, he said.

Concerned family, friends and classmates can intervene in the event of someone who is suicidal or bent on destruction, and may be the ones most likely to pick up on the warning signs of a “lone wolf.”

An effort building interest in Arlington is fathers – some of them former military veterans – who want to help by volunteering as hall monitors. “One of the good sides of the tragedy is more involvement,” Ventura said.

LAKEWOOD

Student safety was utmost on the minds of school administrators when they designed the new Lakewood High School.

The school controls comings and goings through a single-entry access point, and a contained room like an “airlock” before anyone can enter.

Once school starts, all of the other doors auto-lock, other than the front door, Superintendent Michael Mack said.

The system uses keycard readers at strategic locations on each floor in the north and south wings that any teacher can activate to lock down the entire building during or after hours. “It’s working great,” said Dale Leach, director of Learning Support and Facilities.

“We just finished a successful lockdown test after school. It gives you that 30 to 40 critical seconds to hit that alarm and keep people safe.”

Mack said he wants a welcoming environment that is as safe as possible.

“I’m not a fan of metal detectors and barred windows,” Mack said. “I don’t want a prison, and kids don’t want it either.”

Lakewood was one of the first school districts to join ACEs through the Snohomish Health District. The group deals with adverse childhood experiences causing toxic levels of stress, and seeks ways to deal with significant hardships, poor mental and physical health, and low achievement.

Mack and Leach are cognizant that other schools want more security features, a cost that will require more state and federal funding.

Mack said students are planning to join in a nationwide 17-minute walkout on March 14, which marks the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., attack.

He said the entire school may be excused for a walk on the track, followed by some question-and-answer time for students.

What M’ville schools are doing at a glance

•Monthly emergency drills.

•The Rave Mobile Safety App allows district employees to activate the Rave Panic Button, which instantly dials 9-1-1 and sends a text message to on-site personnel. The application also provides five buttons labeled active shooter, police, fire, medical and other.

•Safe Schools Alert allows anyone to report harassment, intimidation, bullying, unsafe behaviors and other concerns anonymously via email, phone or text message. Schools are required to follow up on all reports. Or, students are being encouraged to report unsafe behaviors to a responsible adult. “We’ve noticed our students are taking more initiative to report,” Wicks says in another email Wednesday.

•The district will continue to install more security cameras at schools. Every school has a camera at the front entrance. “One of the biggest issues we face with regard to safety is the number of external doors at many of our schools. Having one-point of entry is critical to keeping a building safe. One of our long-term goals is to pass school bonds that help us rebuild and update schools with this structure and safety in mind,” Wicks says.

•Families and community members are asked to read the district’s Safety and Security FAQ, which details what everyone can do to prepare for an emergency. “Our communities’ preparedness is equally critical to keeping students safe at school,” Wicks says.

•All parents, volunteers and other visitors need to sign in and get a visitors badge.

•The district also uses GoGuardian, which allows staff to filter student Chromebooks. The system sends Smart Alerts if students are searching explicit or self-harm content.

•Our federally funded “Project Aware” grant has provided mental health therapists, Student Assistance Professionals and Prevention and Intervention Specialists in all Marysville secondary schools. These professionals provide targeted assistance with mental health issues, drug and alcohol resources, and support for students.

•The district partners with the local Education Service District to provide Free Youth Mental Health First Aide training to all staff and local community members. YMHFA provides an easy to understand and interactive training that educates, informs and de-stigmatizes issues related to mental health disorders. It also provides trainees with a practical plan and strategy to support an adolescent experiencing a mental health crisis.

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