Special Edition of School Matters to Address School Safety
Davie County Schools Community,
A couple weeks ago, tragedy struck another school in America. I have been extremely saddened by these recent events and have given a significant thought about measures we can take beyond the procedures and protocols we already have in place in our schools. Our leadership team has been in constant discussion about safety. Principals and administrators have received calls and emails with questions, concerns, and suggestions. This edition of School Matters will outline a few of the safety strategies we have in place and changes that are being made in our schools.
Safe Schools Task Force
In an effort to carefully examine our protocols and procedures, we organized a new Safe Schools Task Force. This group of 21 people met last Tuesday, reviewed our current safety measures, and developed and prioritized a list of additional measures we might consider implementing. Members invited to be part of this special Task Force included leadership staff; a school nurse; two school board members; three principals who represented our teachers and support staff; local law enforcement, fire, and emergency services leadership and staff; our county manager; and three parents who also work in emergency services or law enforcement. I also met with a student leadership class at Davie County High School to hear concerns and perspectives from our students to share with the Safe Schools Task Force.
The recommendations from the Safe Schools Task Force were discussed in closed session with the Board of Education at a special called board meeting on Monday, February 26. The Board accepted the recommendations of the Safe Schools Task Force. The Board authorized staff to install new safety equipment and implement new safety procedures in our schools. The Board also supports the addition of two additional School Resource Officers and will work together with the Sheriff and County Government to make these new positions possible for the 2018-19 school year.
While specific safety protocols are, and always will be kept confidential for obvious reasons, you will be seeing some additional changes around our schools. Most obvious will be the way visitors access our schools. New procedures will be implemented, and new equipment will be ordered this week that will require all visitors to “buzz-in” to enter any of our school buildings, as all exterior doors will remain locked during the school day. Visitor identification processes in each school office are also being modified. Over the next several months, you will also see some additional construction in some schools that will change the way you enter the main office. Our schools will continue to be welcoming places for parents and our community, but additional measures to keep children safe have become necessary. As we implement these new procedures, we appreciate your patience.
School Resource Officers
We are fortunate to have five excellent School Resource Officers from the Davie County Sheriff’s Department serving in our schools. The relationship with our law enforcement partners in Davie County is the best I have experienced in my career. The SROs we have in Davie are sworn deputies and are well trained to respond to any critical incident. The training of law enforcement and all emergency response personnel is a high priority of the Safe Schools Task Force and will continue to be scheduled and coordinated in our schools. In addition, we are looking to add SROs in our schools. Last week, we submitted a state grant that could help fund the salaries and training of two additional SROs in 2018-19.
While we constantly train and review our response procedures with staff and students, we must also work together to prevent critical incidents in our schools. As I have said so many times, I want every student in our schools to have a caring, nurturing, professional relationship with an adult on each campus. This may be our most significant strategy to prevent school violence. Our staff has been instructed to seek out students who are not connected. We want our students to feel free to report concerns when one of their peers is having a difficult time in school or at home. Our counselors and administrators are always available and investigate concerns that come to their attention. Any time a concern is raised that may be criminal in nature, law enforcement is immediately contacted.
How to Report
Additionally, we have tools that we want to share that will help keep our schools safe. 1) If you hear or see something unusual that may compromise safety at one of our schools, say something- please immediately call the school principal or report the concern to local law enforcement by calling 911. 2) We have an anonymous hotline: 1-866-719-5890; this service has been in place for several years and is paid for by the Davie County Sheriff’s Department. If you wish to anonymously report a threat of violence, drug use, child abuse, vandalism, etc., just call 1-866-719-5890. 3) Crisis Text Line is a not-for-profit organization providing free crisis intervention from trained crisis counselors via text or Facebook messages. The organization's services are available 24 hours a day every day, throughout the US, by texting 741741.
Educating Our Students
For many years, we have partnered with the Davie County Sheriff’s Department to offer Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) to our fifth-grade students. D.A.R.E. teaches students to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors. Several months ago, a team of educators and law enforcement began reviewing how our SROs might deliver a similar curriculum in our middle schools. We are planning a new curriculum to expand upon the concepts taught in D.A.R.E. for our middle school students beginning in 2018-19.
Local law enforcement officers and our Assistant District Attorney regularly present to groups of students in our middle and high schools about dangers and temptations they may face. Topics they cover include bullying, opioids and prescription drug abuse, illegal drugs, sexting, and other activities that can lead to involvement in the juvenile justice system. They are constantly adapting their communications with students. For example, new trends with e-cigs or vaping have changed the conversations with students.
Trauma-Informed Schools in a Compassionate Community
In partnership with the Dragonfly House and other community agencies, Davie County Schools is transitioning into a Trauma-Informed School District in a Compassionate Community. Our administrators have been trained, and we are implementing new strategies to address children who have been affected by trauma. Students who have witnessed dangerous behaviors or been a victim of physical or sexual abuse are more susceptible to repeating dangerous behaviors or violence. Understanding the real challenges of our students, mental health issues, and how to respond effectively is essential to helping children overcome their personal obstacles and keeping our schools safe.
I pray every morning that our schools in Davie County will remain safe and none of us will ever have to respond to a tragic situation. While we do not control the mental health system, gun laws, background checks, or the many other issues being discussed, there are a number of things within our control that we are ensuring are in place on each of our campuses. Thank you for working with us to make our schools safe and for all of your continued support.
If at any time you have concerns, suggestions, or questions, please contact any of our principals or call my office.
Darrin L. Hartness, Ed. D.
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