NEW BETHLEHEM and RIMERSBURG – In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, local school districts are revisiting and familiarizing faculty, staff and students on emergency procedures.
Union School District superintendent Jean McCleary recently pointed out that while there are no measures that can guarantee 100 percent safety, Union has procedures in place to ensure safety at a certain level.
In addition to doors that are locked at the start of each school day and a buzzer camera entry system for all visitors, Union has also purchased a Mobile Emergency Response Plan (MERP) program. MERP is a mass communication system that can can be downloaded to any mobile device and allows for immediate access for administrators and employees in the event of an emergency situation.
“The MERP tool provides all staff, not just the administration, access to our emergency response plan,” McCleary explained.
In addition, McCleary said that she encouraged district staff to carry their cell phones with them when monitoring the cafeteria, halls and playground in the event that first responders need to be contacted immediately.
Similarly, Redbank Valley High School principal Amy Rupp said that all faculty members have been provided with an emergency manual and have received extensive face-to-face and online training detailing the proper procedures for emergency situations.
“The teachers know the basic steps to take to protect the students,” she said. “Students need to follow their lead.”
Both districts also reported that they have and will continue to utilize practice drills that familiarize faculty and students with emergency protocol, such as the “Run, Hide, Fight” program developed by the Department of Homeland Security.
“As part of the drills, we introduce variables that measure the adherence of staff and students to the protocols as well as the flexibility to adjust to new circumstances,” McCleary said in a joint response with Union High School principal Mark Schlosser and elementary principal Tom Minick. For example, according to the school officials, the fire alarm was pulled during a recent active shooter drill to ensure that recommended safety procedures are being followed.
“Our emergency plans meet or exceed standard procedures,” Union officials continued. “However, we regularly review what we do based on information gathered as a result of drills to improve our practices.”
Redbank Valley School District superintendent Michael Drzewiecki added that local law enforcement agencies have been present during similar drills at all three district buildings to “provide insight and expertise as to where improvement could occur.”
In fact, Drzewiecki said, Redbank Valley completed a risk assessment in the last few years with the state police Department of Domestic Security to ensure the district’s response plan was aligned to the best possible practices. The assessment noted that one way to be proactive in preventing a situation was to provide programs “focused on maintaining a positive learning environment and open lines of communication among students, parents and the community.”
At Redbank, this includes anti-bullying and the Redbank Valley School District Student Assistance Program (SAP), which includes teachers, administration, county drug and alcohol and mental health agencies that support the community and respond to the needs of the students.
“This program supports student needs both in and outside of the school day,” he said.
Administrators from both districts agree that while staff preparedness is imperative, students and community members continue to be a valuable first defense in preventing potential dangerous situations.
According to Rupp, “students are the district’s best resource; they make a difference.”
All the local school officials advised students and parents to be actively aware of mediated and verbal threats and report all suspicious actions to school administrators or police.
“School employees and students can help to create a safe, supportive and nurturing environment for students to learn by engaging and creating a positive rapport with all students,” McCleary said.
Redbank Valley School Board president Chad Shaffer agreed.
“Staff, students and the community are integral parts of the preventative efforts, as every set of eyes and ears can help to spot something suspicious and every voice can be used to call attention to it.”