PASCO, Wash. -- The recent tragedy in Connecticut has prompted school districts across the nation to reexamine their safety plans and procedures and Pasco is no different. Although the District has long held safety as a primary focus and has been recognized for being a leader in this area, District officials are reassessing and reevaluating every aspect of student and employee safety. Principals, teachers, evaluators and experts are all being called upon to offer counsel, information and advice.
"Because we have been so focused on safety we are at a good starting point to evaluate and fine-tune. Every building has an individual and up-to-date crisis plan and our schools continually drill in a number of areas, " said Assistant Superintendent of Operations John Morgan.
These drills range from standard fire and evacuation, which most people participated in at school, to lock down and lock out drills, procedures that saved lives at Sandy Hook.
The District works closely with both Pasco Police Department (PPD) and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office. "It is not uncommon during school hours to see officers patrolling in all school areas," says Morgan. "The PPD and Sheriff's Office also use District facilities for training drills, so every school in the District has been electronically mapped out for safety. The law enforcement agencies have these resources."
School Resource Officers (SRO's) are present at all secondary schools. These officers are certified, uniformed, and employed by either PPD or the Sheriff's Office. Like any law enforcement officer, SROs carry service weapons. Additionally the District has a team of 19 school security personnel, who serve as the eyes and ears of safety at the District's secondary campuses.
Every building in the District now has video surveillance and many buildings have electronic access control. Elementary schools have a single access point at the front door next to the main office. And when buildings are not occupied motion detectors, door alarms and glass breakage alarms protect public property and ensure that no hazardous materials can be placed in schools. This technology extends to the portable classrooms as well.
The District also works closely with local law enforcement, first responders, and a number of local agencies on safety planning and crisis prevention, including Franklin County Emergency Management, and Student Protection Team, an organization that covers all of the Tri Cities and coordinates and reports any threats to students and school employees across districts, cities, and counties.
Where safety is concerned there is always room for improvement and planning, Morgan notes.
"We will evaluate all of our facilities with regard to the safety of our students and staff members. The District will convene a panel of first responders, law enforcement and school security experts in the coming weeks to help us review our current crisis plans and assist with future planning. We will conduct a review of each campus with an eye toward how to improve on the security that already exists," Morgan said.
Here in Pasco safety improvements were underway by Dec. 17.
"By the Monday morning after (the Sandy Hook shootings) the District was working to quickly address future security needs. On Tuesday, principals were called together to discuss needs specific to their buildings and they were asked to seek input from their staff members and parents on their thoughts and concerns regarding safety. By Wednesday we had lock specialists working to evaluate and repair, if necessary, all exterior and interior door locks at every building," said Superintendent Saundra Hill.
The issue of safety is one that is constantly at the forefront in Pasco. "We take safety very seriously," says Hill. "Even though Pasco has been recognized for its current security strategies, Sandy Hook has been a wake up call to all schools across the nation to review and improve where needed. Pasco will move quickly to take the necessary steps to keep our students and employees safe."
Principals will be sharing all of the information they have gathered with Morgan by January 7 in preparation for the arrival of outside safety evaluators on Jan. 8 and 9. Working with the information provided by the staff, the evaluators will assess each school and provide recommendations. Within a few days of those security assessments, the newly formed Security Advisory Panel will begin meeting to review those reports and make recommendations for each campus. Members of the Security Advisory Panel will be first responders and other school security experts.
One of the best deterrents to a crisis is alert and caring adults.
"It's important to know that even with all of the technology, the most effective safety measures are often observation and communication among students, staff and parents," he said. "If you think something is wrong, make a call to school officials or law enforcement."