School safety has always been a priority for the Grayson County school system, but the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 20 young students and 6 adults dead, has thrust the topic to the forefront of both parents’ and educators’ minds.
Just weeks before the news of Sandy Hook’s tragedy rang out, Grayson County administrators began the process of reevaluating safety measures at the county’s six public schools, according to Doug Robinson, Assistant Superintendent of Grayson County Schools.
Every few years, he said, the safety team looks at each school’s emergency response plans to determine if any updates or changes are necessary. The team was established several years ago after the district received a safety grant from Green River Regional Education Cooperative (GRECC). Arnold Hack, the school system’s Director of Transportation, has been acting as the safety team leader.
“Safety is always a concern for us,” Robinson said in an interview with the News-Gazette this week.
“From the time the first student gets on a bus in the morning until the last student gets home, there are a thousand safety issues,” Robinson said, explaining the magnitude of situations that school employees must be prepared for. “School safety turns into weather, buses, an active shooter, bomb threats, or even a hazardous materials evacuation.”
He also mentioned that in addition to these issues which every school across the nation must prepare for, Grayson County has the added hazard that “almost every one of our schools is close to a railroad.”
This year, one item the safety group addressed is the lack of a buzzer system at Wilkey Elementary School. Wilkey is the only school in the district where visitors do not have to first ask office staff through the system’s intercom for permission to enter before coming into the building.
Robinson said that later this week a company specializing in such buzzer systems will be visiting Wilkey in preparation for a switch to such a system.
While Robinson called this addition “one piece of the puzzle,” he added that this is not a fail-proof system for preventing incidents such as the one seen in Connecticut.
“There’s no bullet-proof, cookie-cutter plan,” Robinson explained, though each and every safety measure taken will hopefully work toward creating the safest environment possible. “It’s something we are always assessing,” he said.
Aside from built-in measures like buzzer systems and “sally traps,” or foyers which funnel all guests into the school office before they are able to access the rest of the building, teachers and other school staff are trained in how to handle potentially hazardous situations.
Each classroom also contains a well-organized flip chart which allows teachers to quickly find the information on what their class is to do in any variety of dangerous circumstances. Having fast and easy access to such information can save precious seconds, and potentially even save lives.
Students also are prepared for action during drills for events such as a tornado or necessary evacuation, though Robinson says it’s neither practical nor possible to practice every potential scenario with the children.
Another important step in the right direction, according to Robinson, is getting to know, and listening to the students themselves.
“The more we all get to know our kids, the more we know how to address these issues. Just as instruction is individualized, so is [safety preparedness],” he said.
Robinson went on to explain that the burden of keeping our community’s children safe goes beyond teachers and school administrators to parents, grandparents and other community members as well.
He noted that studies have shown that in nearly every school shooting incident, the shooter told someone about the plan before it was carried out.
School officials encourage anyone who hears any mention of something that may endanger students to speak up, and to do so immediately.
“Don’t just blow it off,” Robinson encourages.
Anyone with information about a potential threat can contact the Leitchfield Police Department at 259-4357 or the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office at 259-3024.
These offices, Robinson explained, are also a key to students’ safety.
Officers are trained in how to handle various situations in local schools, and will undoubtedly be reevaluating their own procedures to look for possible methods of improvement following the recent events.
Other such helpful information may be learned from Friday’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, Robinson said, explaining that he will be listening to “see what comes out of this from experts.”
He remembered how significantly the Columbine High School shooting changed school safety protocols, and said “I think this will change things, too.”
“We’re always looking for ways to be better,” he said finally, “We’ve got to make sure we do the very best we can.”