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Looking out for Each Other, School Safety

In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 people dead, local school officials are reassessing and reviewing practices and protocols to ensure the safety of their students and staff.

The school shooting at the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School on February 14 reaffirmed the need for school districts to continuously review their safety plans and procedures with staff and students as well as local emergency response departments.

"The MURSD Administration and the Regional School Committee want to assure you that we have precautions, procedures, and systems in place to keep our children safe and secure while they are at school," said Mendon Upton Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Maruszczak in a letter to parents after the Parkland school shooting. "We benefit from close relationships with both the Mendon and Upton Police Departments who assist us in the event that we need to investigate any potential threats within the community."

Proactively, along with conducting lock-down and emergency evacuation drills at each of the school buildings a few times per year, the Mendon Upton district also added to their safety plan a new technology application that enables real-time, two-way communication between any staff member and the police in the event of an intruder event. The district also has plans to implement an ALICE protocol (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) to provide preparation and a plan on how to more proactively handle threats.

"We will continue to review our school safety plans so they remain sustainable, reasonable, and meaningful," said Maruszczak.

And although planning for an emergency is always important, being reactive isn't the only step that can be taken to keep kids safe, according to the head of the Mendon Upton schools.

"The largest component of school safety is building positive school climates where staff members know their students well," said Maruszczak. "Our school district will continue to support social-emotional learning as a strategic priority, as emotional well-being is the most critical element of a healthy school culture."

Also in the town of Upton, Blackstone Valley Regional Technical High School (BVT) have too been reviewing and reinforcing their security measures.

"Safety is everyone's job at BVT," said BVT Principal Anthony Steele in a February 27 statement. "Students and staff not only look out for one another at BVT, but also speak up routinely if they have concern for a fellow student."

Steele said that integral to the school culture is the promoting of "ownership and empowerment of the students and staff."

"We are proud of our collective ownership of school safety that starts by keeping our eyes and ears open, and being encouraged and empowered to speak up when something does not feel right," he said. "This ranges from our approach to: wear our school identification at all times, watch out for one another while operating potentially dangerous equipment, keep windows and doors locked, report suspicious behavior, or speak up about anything that otherwise causes concern."

Along with fostering the social emotional well-being of their students as a precaution against school threats, Steele commented that over the past five years, BVT has upgraded its video surveillance system and the accessibility of those cameras by Upton Police Department, and invested and trained on several new communication technologies to address school shooter and other emergency scenarios.

"[We] enjoy a great working relationship with the Upton Police, and we are proud of our mutual commitment to safety," said Steele. "This close collaboration has significantly contributed to our overall safety at BVT."


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