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North Hills Monthly

School Safety a Priority for Local Districts

Jul 31, 2018 02:20PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Hampton Township School District administrators and Hampton Township police officers going through a mock drill during ALICE training.

By Kathleen Ganster

School safety is on everyone’s mind, and understandably so. In response to recent shootings as well as earlier incidents, local schools are working to ensure that their students, faculty and staff are as safe and secure as possible. 

Hampton Township School District has participated in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) since 2015.The entire staff and faculty have been trained in ALICE and the district will be moving forward with additional student training in the next year. 

“ALICE was one of the first nationally endorsed training programs that helped schools move away from the recommendation to ‘shelter in place’ to countering an attack,” explained Superintendent Michael Loughhead. “At the time, the Hampton Township Police and our school resource officer were recommending it.”  

According to the ALICE website, the training provides preparation and a plan for individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event, whether reacting to one person or an international group of professionals intent on conveying a political message through violence. The training is provided to schools, churches, healthcare facilities, and other businesses and organizations. 

With nearly 3,000 students, the Hampton Township School District works closely with the Hampton Township Police Department to ensure that everyone in the district—as well as those in the larger community—is safe. To this end, they opened up ALICE training to the community in July. 

“We’ve been doing it in the school and parents aren’t familiar with the training, so it is important to give them an opportunity to experience what the students and staff are getting,” said Police Chief Thomas Vulakovich. 

Hampton has other security measures in place as well. The district hired Steve Sciullo as a school security specialist in May. Sciullo has worked at the district for several years, so he knows it and the students well. He will be stationed at the high school.

Sciullo’s new role will include interacting and building relationships with students so that he is able to help identify potential needs and issues before they escalate. “You have to have the skills to interact with teenagers, and Mr. Sciullo has that ability. Having him in this role gives us the added value of real-time interaction and that’s irreplaceable,” Loughhead said. 

The district has employed other safety measures as well: a Hampton police officer is stationed at the high school throughout the day and as needed at other district buildings; all exterior doors are locked during the school day and all visitors must enter and exit through the main entrances; all district buildings have a captured vestibule to enhance building security by using the SchoolGate Guardian Visitor Management System; each classroom has a “Go Bag” which is equipped with items such as medical supplies; and various staff members are equipped with additional communication tools including bullhorns, walkie-talkies and access to electronic crisis protocols.

Seneca Valley School District is cautious when sharing their safety measures and plans.

“We have been told through law enforcement training that you are compromising those plans when you do that. It can also create an environment where you challenge others to try and test your measures,” said Communications Director Linda Andreassi. “Therefore, without going into great detail, I can tell you that we made several adjustments to our school security monitoring processes this past school year, and quite a number of measures within the last five to seven years.” 

Like every school district, Seneca makes student, staff and faculty safety their number one priority. It has a district security team and works closely with their local law enforcement. They also work closely with parents and the community. “It is a team effort,” said Andreassi. 

“We believe that it’s imperative that communications between school and home play an important role in maintaining a safe school environment,” added Superintendent Tracy Vitale.   

Both Seneca Valley and Hampton believe that students have to be involved in school safety. Seneca’s school safety online reporting system and telephone hotline have been in place for several years just for this purpose. 

“We echo the sentiment from first responders that ‘When you see something, say something,’” said Vitale. “Whether an individual chooses to contact us directly, call our telephone tip line or utilize our online reporting system, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to share with us information heard from others within the district or even within the community.”  

The district routinely reviews crisis management plans, updating them when necessary. Staff and faculty have participated in various trainings, including ALICE, to ensure that everyone responds with the most up-to-date methods. The district also houses security cameras internally and externally at all building sites, and works regularly with teachers and security to discuss best practices for school safety, including more supervision and visibility, according to Vitale. 

Seneca Valley also feels that the partnership with their local police agencies is key to school safety.

“We have several police services agreements with local police departments to provide greater and more frequent patrols at all of our elementary schools, both internally and externally, and randomly,” said Vitale, adding that this was a change made shortly after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

Two full-time police resource officers are on site at the secondary campus and work closely with on-site school security and administration to assist with safety needs while also developing an excellent rapport with staff and students. 

“As you can imagine, we have sent a number of letters home to our parents this past school year explaining many of the points above, hoping that they can understand that we have and will continue to take school safety very seriously,” said Andreassi. “The feedback to those pieces of communication and our efforts has been positive, but that doesn’t mean the job is over; it’s an ever-evolving part of our education system that deserves our constant attention. We are keenly aware of our role each and every day.”

Shaler Area School District constantly evaluates their procedures to stay on top of safety issues.

“In recent years, we have actively increased our district safety through facility improvements, additional safety personnel, and safety and response training,” said Superintendent Sean Aiken. 

Some of the improvements have included building projects to increase security at facility front entrances; upgraded door access systems in all buildings to ensure that doors are secure throughout the day; utilization of the Raptor system to monitor visitor access in all buildings, and updated surveillance capabilities.

This summer, the district will complete the final phase of construction projects designed to improve the security of building entrances by constructing a secure vestibule at the entrance to Reserve Primary. It will also improve the entrance to Shaler Area Elementary School.

Like their counterparts, Shaler has completed ALICE training, as well as active shooter and intruder training with local law enforcement. Additionally, the district has district- and township-wide emergency operations teams and crisis teams in each building that include members that have been trained as building-level first responders.

“Since 2014, the district has had a full-time school resource officer, Shaler Township Police Officer Frank Spiker, within the schools to provide assistance, intervention and support to our students and staff,” said Aiken. “Additionally, we have building security officers in our elementary school, middle school and high school.”

Aiken said that is takes a community to keep schools safe.

“We are fortunate to have strong relationships with our local police and fire departments and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers, and the entire Shaler Area community has been supportive of the district and the changes we have made to improve safety in the district,” he said.

La Roche College Promotes Openness without Sacrificing Safety

Schools districts aren’t the only ones who need to be prepared to respond to emergencies. Ever since the shootings at nearby Duquesne University and Virginia Tech, colleges and universities know that the threat is just as real on their campuses.  

At La Roche College, located in McCandless, there are at least two security guards on the campus at all times, according to Director of Public Safety Mark Wilcox. “A full security assessment was completed in 2005 and the college decided to move to an outsourcing agency to be more effective,” he explained.  

The security guards patrol the campus to respond to any security issues, with one focusing on the residence halls after hours. Guards are also trained for first emergency response, active shooter training, and CPR. 

Students who live on campus must have college IDs to be allowed in the residence halls and guests must be signed in through a formal process. All students, staff and faculty are requested to have IDs, and students and staff must register their cars. 

La Roche also works closely with the McCandless police and fire departments. This past spring, the police held a presentation for all members of the La Roche community on how to respond to an active shooter incident. They plan to offer another this fall for new students. 

“This is an open campus—we have been welcoming to all students in an atmosphere that the Sisters have created, but we also want to make sure that it is a safe campus,” Wilcox said.