Arlington Public Schools hosting forums with families about school safety

ARLINGTON – When workers limbed up trees along 172nd Street NE at Weston High School, it wasn’t so much for maintenance purposes.

Rather, it removed places for lurkers bent on criminal activity to hide, creating a better sense of safety and security for students, staff and visitors.

The measure was just one of several that were highlighted by Arlington school officials at the second of three safety and security community forums held at Arlington High School Tuesday. The final forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 at Post Middle School, 1220 E. 5th St.

Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said the community forums are an open opportunity to remind families that the district is making investments and taking steps to address safety concerns, and also welcomes their input.

“Making sure our students are safe requires working together,” Sweeting said. “We can’t do it alone.”

She said parents, residents and staff need to partner with the district to reinforce high expectations that students are respectful, engaged and academically successful.

An Arlington school construction and safety improvements bond on the Nov. 6 ballot is the centerpiece of several future safety and security upgrades that district officials hope to incorporate from school to school.

In the meantime, though, many projects have already been completed, many related to facilities.

Executive director of operations Brian Lewis said limbing up the trees at Weston, and installing a fence in the back area of Arlington High School to move lunch gatherings from the front of the building to the back are two examples of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

“It’s a way to design out crime, an approach to help us deter criminals both inside and outside the building,” Lewis said. It’s based on the idea that property design and effective use of the built environment can reduce crime and the fear, while also improving the environment.

Officials conducted an audit in 2018 that found led to changes for some buildings and grounds throughout the district.Lewis said several other safety and security actions have been completed, including:

* Retractable line barriers in each entry way to direct all visitors to the office for sign in.

* Installed remotely activated electronic door locks at main doors at all the elementary schools, Haller Middle School, AHS and Weston.

* Ongoing emergency communications improvements.

* Ongoing trauma-informed practices training for staff.

* Installed fencing and gates at Stillaguamish Valley Learning Center.

More recently, the district has deployed electronic visitor management systems at schools, added a Behavioral Support Specialist to support elementary schools, increased counseling support at the elementary and middle school, and forged a stronger relationship with Arlington Police and other law enforcement agencies.

In the future, the district plans to install exterior and interior cameras to increase visibility and safety across the district.

* Engage staff and students in a district reunification practice drill.

* Install enhance security entryways.

Keri Burk-Henderson, executive director of Teaching and Learning, addressed the importance of emotional and developmental well-being and support.

She said the district is focused on equity access for all kids and removing barriers, trauma-informed practices, and response to intervention.

She said counseling and behavioral health support on staff is available at schools, the district has worked with Hospital District #3 to make mental health specialists available at two of the elementary schools, and more services are now being provide by Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital through a grant program.

Communication Director Gary Sabol highlighted some of the district’s communications tools.

He mentioned SafeSchools alert, an anonymous tip line to report when something suspicious is occurring, and providing an alternative to students if they can’t first contact a teacher, counselor or other adult.

They also use School Messenger robo-calls in event of an emergency, as well emails and text messages to maximize ways families can receive critical information.

The Safe Visitor Solutions Visitor Management System is being test at Haller and Eagle Creek that scans drivers licenses, scans them as a background check for individuals entering the school, and keeps them on record for 24 hours. Online registration is also available.

The district is also using the RAVE panic button app that creates a one-touch connect on smart phones between schools and their employees to 9-1-1 and first responders.

Some of the ideas that emerged from table discussions at the forums include more surveillance cameras, more volunteer training and the role community members can play in making schools safer, more information on security changes that are coming and when, addressing traffic flow and parking at schools, and applying crime design practices and tools on buses, too, as a means to also help drivers.

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