Board talks district safety
Almost a month after a mass shooting unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary 6FhRRO Ln 1HwWRwn, CRnn., that killed 26 children and teachers, the Abington School District has been actively working with the Abington Township Police Department to revise and strengthen its school safety plan.
At the Jan. 8 school board meeting Abington Deputy Chief John Livingood presented to the board ways the school district and the police department are collaborating to tighten security and keep schools safe.
“We have developed, what we have termed, a threephase process, as the way we are approaching [school safety],” Livingood said.
Phase I of the Safe Schools Initiative, which will occur throughout the month of January, will call for site visits and walk-throughs of each school in the district by police. During the site visits WhH RIfiFHrV wLOO EH HYDOuDWing how easily assessable the buildings are, reviewing plans and discussing changes and upgrades, he said.
“We see this as a people process,” Livingood said. “It is the people who are going to make a difference if something does happen. If we are faced with one of these tragic events like in Connecticut it is going to be the staff, teachers and students who are going to have WR PDkH GLIfiFuOW GHFLVLRnV and respond.”
Thus, Livingood said that Phase II will be to train offiFHrV hRw WR rHVSRnG WR DnG interact with the teachers, as well as training teachers and staff how to act to protect themselves and students in an emergency.
“We are not only going to develop these plans, but we are going to walk through them with everyone at least on a tabletop basis,” he said.
Phase II will begin in February and continue through the end of the school year, Livingood said.
In order to maintain school safety in the future, Livingood said that Phase III will be an annual review of the school safety procedures.
“We don’t see this as a one and done, quick-fix process, but something that will have to be maintained in the years to come,” he said. “In order to do that, we will need to continue the training, evaluate the training processes based on tragedies that are probably going to occur and the lessons we learn from each of those. Also, there will be new staff, teachers and officers who all will have to be indoctrinated into what we are doing here.”
As the school district and police department work to implement these plans, Superintendent Amy Sichel said that the best thing for parents to do during this time is cooperate with what’s being done.
“More parents have called us in the last couple of weeks, since the Newtown, Conn., incident, asking if we have a Safe Schools plan … and asking if they can see it and the answer is ‘no,’” Sichel said. “The only thing we will release is a table of contents … However, we are not going to release our plans, [because] there are things the school needs to initiate with the Abington Police Department and there are some very sensitive documents in those manuals.”
In addition to parents, the best way students can help with the safety process is to inform adults when they see or hear anything suspicious, said Assistant Superintendent Leigh Altadonna.
“Nothing can be better than if a student, seeing something on Facebook or is aware of rumors among classmates, brings it to a responsible adult,” he said. “That is probably one of the most important ways for us to be proactive … before it becomes a situation.”
In other business, school district Director of Pupil Services Judy Bomze presented to the board revisions in the student registration procedures to ensure that all Abington students are legitimate residents in the district.
During enrollment, parents and guardians will have to provide documentation of residency, in addition to their child’s immunization records, proof of the child’s age, disciplinary records and home language survey. The documentation of residency will need to include forms such as a home ownership deed, a current lease agreement, settlement papers and a property tax receipt. Caregivers will have to sign a Statement of District Residency during enrollment, she said.
Bomze explained that the district will verify residency through interviews and investigations, and caregivers who own homes will be verified through property tax records. Residency documentation will be reviewed annually.
School board President Raymond McGarry recommended that at the beginning of each school year a letter go to the home of each child in the school district to verify if his or her residency changed and, if it has changed, to provide the new address. This will help ward against individuals who own property in the district, but their families don’t live in the district.
“Just so people know, this is not just another bureaucratic procedure,” said board member Barry Stupine. “I am told that we ask 100 students a year to leave [the schools] because they don’t live here. That’s theft of assets … we can actually go to the perpetrators of this and ask them to pay tuition.”