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Q&A with the Monroe school district: School safety
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Editor's note: The following Q&A is derived from information provided by the Monroe school district about school safety. It is the final topic in the series: Stories on collaboration time, technology and positive behavior interventions and supports, and grading and assessments were published previously.

Anytime one thinks of school safety, our first thoughts immediately go to the students and the needs to make them safe. In recent years, our country has become increasingly alarmed over violent events that have taken place within public schools resulting in the injury or death of students. At the start of the 2015-16 school year, the School District of Monroe chose to implement the ALICE incident response program and have trained the students and staff throughout the year. The district has also had meetings and coordinated with local police, sheriff, EMS and fire officials so that they are aware of the district's plan as well.

What exactly is ALICE?

ALICE is a proactive approach to responding to an active shooter event by authorizing and empowering individuals to utilize human action, building infrastructure and communication to increase their chances of survival. ALICE stands for: Alert, Lockdown (hide or barricade), Inform, Counter (distractions, movements or make noise), and Evacuate (run). The purpose of the program and training is to provide students and staff with the opportunity to plan ahead by making a well-informed decision if an unsafe or unexpected situation was to happen at school.

How will the district let parents know if there's an emergency?

Communication is an important component of safety. School districts must have the ability to communicate necessary information regarding an emergency situation in a timely manner. Monroe schools currently use the SkyAlert program to mass communicate with parents. The system allows the district to mass send emails, phone calls and texts to parents and staff. This can go simply to their home or to all contact information they have made available to the district including alternative emergency contact individuals. The system is used to communicate changes to the normal district schedule or operations such as closures or delays due to inclement weather or other emergencies. The system also becomes a tool for the district to provide updates to parents on the status of operations during and/or after emergency or alert situations.

Another basic form of communication that often gets overlooked is the phone system itself. The district's phone system is nearly 20 years old and currently not supported by the manufacturer.

"We have been getting our replacement handsets off the secondary market for as long as I have been here, so for at least 10 years," said Business Administrator Ron Olson. "That is ok for handsets. However, now that the main phone system is no longer supported, should a main control board go, we can't afford to have the techs search for two or three days to find a replacement on the secondary market, have it shipped here, take a day or two to reprogram the system and then since it is a used product, hope that it works or have to restart the whole process. No business would risk being without phones for that long."

The district is currently considering replacing the phone system as part of a 2016 fall referendum it is discussing. It was pointed out that phone systems for schools these days are not just about the ability to make a phone call. Depending on the phone system and features selected and other buildings systems in place, the new phone systems can control access doors and send message alerts in an emergency; provide access to emergency responders to cameras, intercoms, bells and alarms; receive weather and emergency alerts; provide automated messaging to staff when alerts go off in the fire alarm, HVAC and other operating systems; and can provide 911 call tracing to the individual phone from where the call is placed to increase response time versus just identifying the district or the school building.

What else is the district considering to improve safety?

Some other major safety initiatives the district has discussed as part of a potential 2016 fall referendum include adding video cameras to all district schools. Currently only the high school has cameras. Installing keyless access cards at the elementary schools on main entrance ways and other key locations throughout the building would allow the district to better keep track of who is accessing the buildings outside of regular hours. It also provides better controls, increased security and potential cost savings versus having keys issued that could be lost or copied that lead to compromised security or the need to change locks. The district also is looking at putting bollards (concrete pillars) in front of entranceways to help secure them from cars.

The Monroe school board has discussed providing more secure entranceways to the school buildings. Once school is in session, all school building doors are locked except for the primary entrance way. It was discussed whether the entrances could be reconfigured in a way that could allow for all doors to be locked at all times with parents, visitors and late arriving students then needing to be allowed entry into the main office. This is a change a number of school districts have implemented. It would require some modifications at all the buildings with some of the Monroe schools' designs allowing easier modifications than others. It was determined this should be studied over the next three years with a potential solution being proposed when the district's debt service is retired in 2019. In the interim, administration can look at improved procedures or protocols for logging and monitoring school visitors.

School safety and the safety of our community's children is an ongoing process. Many of the changes can be made with limited cost by implementing changes to procedures or operations. However, some areas do require upgrades and spending in order to increase school and student safety and it requires the school board and district to have dialog and get community input as they determine how best to utilize their limited financial resources.