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The City Journals

School safety starts with students: ‘know something, say something’

May 07, 2018 01:22PM ● By Julie Slama

A panel of city, school district and community leaders address issues of concern about keeping students safe at school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Coleen Walton admittedly is worried about the safety of her four children attending Jordan School District schools.

“With the world we live in, I’m worried and want to know what’s going on with how they’re keeping them safe,” she said about the reason she attended the April 12 school safety panel where Jordan School District administrators as well as city and community leaders addressed issues of concern about keeping the district’s 53,000 students safe at their schools.

Through a plethora of information and background of how district officials are trying to ensure student safety, Walton realizes it’s her turn to get involved.

“I’m overwhelmed with the amount of information they presented and impressed at the range of it,” she said, adding that she feels reassured that everything is being done to keep her kids safe. “My daughter talked about the recent drill (at Riverton High School), but we don’t talk about shootings and what they should do if there is one. I need to talk to my kids.”

The lockdown drill rang during a passing period instead of while students were in a class. Riverton High Assistant Principal Curtis Hagen said 2,200 students were in closed-door classrooms within 11 seconds.

“We have drills every two months,” he said. “This one we did with the Unified Police so they get to know our building, the turns, hiding spots and become familiar with it.”

Elementary students drill monthly, so in emergencies, they’re familiar with the procedures, said Amanda Edwards, Silver Crest principal in Herriman.

Officials advised those who may pick up school children to become familiar with the various drills conducted at the schools and to know the difference of a lockout – when there is a threat outside of the school so exterior doors are locked – versus a lockdown — an intruder is inside the school — versus a shelter in place — threatening conditions outside the school, but inside, students are able to move around the building.

Jordan School District spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said parents should keep their contact and emergency contact information updated through Skyward (a school management software) [MU1] so once students can be safely released, they will receive them and know about the situation. Information also will be available through social media, she said. 

South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey, who has children in the district, said she recently observed an active shooter training at Bingham High conducted by South Jordan Police.

“It was a privilege — and terrifying — to see it,” she said, adding that police go through intense training to prepare for emergency situations. “As parents, we should talk to our children about ‘what would I do in that situation’ as our community response team already is addressing those issues.”

Students need to practice as if it is a real situation, South Jordan Police Chief Jeff Carr said.

“What are they going to do and how are they going to avoid it?” he said. “How can they deny an attacker to get where they are at and if they can’t, how do you defend yourself? These are issues that need to be talked about.”

Communication, including student messaging inside a school, is key, Riesgraf said.

“We know parents need a lifeline to their students,” she said. “We used to tell students to put devices down, but it doesn’t work. What we say now is that this would be a good time to let your parents know you are OK. We do ask that they don’t send video or live-stream as we’ve learned it reveals tactical positions and their approach which could jeopardize the safety of first-responders.”

Carr said parents can be assured there will be a “tremendous amount” of law enforcement once a problem stars, but beforehand, is when police need help.

“We will help you and be there in mass numbers, but we need to communicate to our children if they ‘know something, say something.’ It’s OK for them to talk,” he said.

Ben Jameson, who was Riverton’s South Hills Middle School principal and now is the district’s evaluation, research and accountability department director, said that students are worried they would get in trouble by saying if they see signs of emotional distress — bullying, suicide, drugs and others — among their classmates, and they’re afraid their friend would retaliate or be angry.

“We assure them they are being a good friend, and in time, their friend may realize the best friend is the one looking out for them,” he said.

He said that cyber-bullying is more visible with smartphones and social media, so students are a key to alerting adults about the first signs. When he was principal, Jameson put in place an early warning system to identify students who may have attendance, discipline and grade concerns so they could help them before it becomes a greater issue. 

West Jordan’s Joel P. Jensen Middle School Principal Bryan Leggat said that his staff, as others across the district, gets to know students by name so the students know they are cared for or missed if they aren’t in school.

Ramsey also encouraged parents to watch for warning signs and for them and students to become familiar with the statewide SafeUT electronic device app, which provides real-time crisis intervention with counselors to youth through texting as well as a confidential tip message to school administrators on bullying, threats, violence and depression.

Superintendent Patrice Johnson said the community focus is “to keep our children safe. We need to talk to our children and make sure they’re aware of what is going on to keep them safe.”

District facility operations manager Lance Everill ran through the district’s safety and security timeline from first installing analog cameras to the increased measures in response to the Columbine High shootings in 1999 and Sandy Hook in December 2012.

He also said that all schools have Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) and that security doors have been completed in every elementary school, and the district is in the process of installing them in every middle school. There also is a districtwide consistency, so as students or teachers move from building to building, they will be familiar with the same procedures at each school.

“Our children have been born into a world of emergency response,” Everill said. “It’s not just violence. What our students are learning everyday in drills (can be applied to) real life.”

Ramsey said the process is evolving, and training is ongoing. 

“We can’t predict everything, but everything that can be done is being done,” she said. “As a parent, I’m grateful.”

 [MU1]Do we need to briefly explain what this is? I suppose parents of school children will know what this is, but other may not.