School Safety Is ‘Top Priority,’ ACPS Officials Say | #schoolsaftey

School safety has been a concern for parents of ACPS students since long before the recent, high-profile incidents involving ACPS students, including the off-campus stabbing death of Alexandria City High School student, Luis Mejia Hernandez, on May 24.

Wednesday evening, the Alexandria Council of PTAs (PTAC), Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and Parents for Safe Alexandria Schools (PSAS) held a forum on public safety and security in Alexandria’s public schools.

During her opening remarks, ACPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Malenie Kay-Wyatt said that school safety and security is a “top priority.”

The panel of community experts at the forum included ACPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Malenie Kay-Wyatt, Director of Safety & Security Services John Contreras, Director of School Social Work Faiza Jackson, APD Officer Richard Sandoval, Alexandria City Gang Prevention Community Task Force Member Mike Mackey, Everytown for Gun Safety’s Be SMART Secure Gun Storage Program Member Andy Corso, and City of Alexandria’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services Representative Alex Carroll.

Kay-Wyatt and the other panelists all emphasized the need for collaboration and support from parents and the community.  

“It’s not just the schools. I hope it is apparent to everyone in our community that they have a role to play in our collective safety and security. I ask families to partner with us and to support our efforts by staying up to date on our Alexandria City Public Schools staff and student well-being, safety and security measures,” said Kay Wyatt.

Physical Security

Contreas has been the director of the Office of Safety and Security for ACPS for the past 4.5 years. During that time a number of physical security measures have been implemented, including a new visitor management system, security cameras, intrusion systems that are activated after school hours, cleaner air systems and asbestos reports. Additionally, schools have implemented staggered dismissal, student IDs and student and staff entrances.

All exterior doors in all ACPS schools are supposed to be locked from arrival to dismissal and visitors should report if they find a door unlocked during school hours. Teachers are allowed but not required to lock classroom doors while teaching class.

Contreas said that school staff receive safety training twice a year. Age appropriate lessons developed by teachers regarding shooting drills are used and active shooting drills are done 2-3 times each semester. Students and staff are encouraged to evacuate the building to a designated safe location.

An audience member asked if the schools plan to install metal detectors. Contreas said that his office is constantly strategizing and considering new strategies to keep schools safe and that everything is on the table but that there are not specific plans regarding metal detectors at this time.

The office also oversees the non-police School Security Officers (SSOs) who are stationed in secondary schools. Contreas could not provide an exact number of SSOs who are in schools citing security reasons. When asked if there are plans to have SSOs in elementary schools, the panelists said while it is being considered, it is not an easy discussion to have.

There are five Alexandria City Police School Resource Officers (SROS) assigned to ACPS schools: One at George Washington Middle School, one at Francis Hammond, one at Minnie Howard and two at Alexandria City High School.

“We all have to work in partnership for the betterment of our children,” said Sandoval, echoing the sentiment of previous panelists. Sandoval is assigned as SRO at Francis Hammond Middle School. He spoke about how rewarding it has been to develop relationships based on trust with students, saying that many greet him in the halls with a hug and openly share their issues with him.

The SRO program has not been without controversy. The role of SROs is currently being evaluated and refined by the School + Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) advisory board. The board is set to release its report in December.

Kay-Wyatt confirmed that Lunch & Learn will become Titan Lunch and will return in a different format in January following security updates to the program.

Social and Emotional Well-Being

Jackson is the Director of School Social Work for ACPS. She said that the work her office does is an integral part of both school safety and academic learning. “We believe that when students are connected and engaged and they feel safe then we are removing barriers to learning and they are able to participate in that environment,” explained Jackson.

ACPS has developed a multi-tiered system of support for students beginning with every student getting 30 minutes a day of SEAL time where they can focus on developing a variety of social, relational and self-awareness skills.

For students who need more support, the additional tiers become increasingly personalized and individualized and involve school counselors, nurses, psychiatrists, social workers and other community resources. ACPS is using a universal screener tool to find out where students need more support.

Jackson emphasized that her office and other ACPS team members  welcome questions, comments and feedback from families.

Gangs, Guns and Drugs

Mackey spoke briefly about gangs in Alexandria. He said that the issue has been a significant priority for the city since 2006. The model used to address gang related issues is based on the five tenants of community mobilization, agency change, and development opportunities, social intervention, and improved law enforcement.

The Intervention, Prevention and Education (IPE) program,  community education, the mentorship program and development classes have been successful in counteracting the appeal of gang membership and reducing youth violence in Alexandria and Northern Virginia as a whole.

When asked about the status of gangs in Alexandria and whether or not they have increased, Gang Prevention Community Task Force Coordinator Percy White, who was in the audience, did not give a definitive answer. He did say that the task force collaborates closely with ACPS.

Corso has two children who are students at ACPS. He talked about gun safety from his perspective as a member of BE SMART, a non-partisan program that helps educate people and communities on how to keep children safe from firearms. The leading cause of death in children in America is firearms, Corso said. It’s important to have open conversations about guns for this reason.

Drugs, in particular the opioid crisis, was a hot topic at the meeting. Panel members stressed that they are taking the topic seriously (watch a video about the opioid crisis from Kay-Wyatt here). Staff training, substance abuse counselors and continued prevention, education and discussions are a key part of ACPS’ response to the crisis. Students are encouraged to reach out about drugs and addiction without fear of repercussion. All SROs carry Narcan, a medicine that has proven effective in treating drug overdoses.

Safe Streets

Weapons and drugs aren’t the only threat to student safety. Vehicles pose a threat to children walking or biking to and from school. Carroll manages the Complete Streets program as part of the Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services with the goal of making streets accessible, safe and comfortable for all users. The city has completed almost half of the infrastructure recommendations around the schools.

These improvements include crosswalks, sidewalks and flashing pedestrian beacons. The City recently approved the lowering of speed limits and the use of speed cameras in school zones.

A full recording of Wednesday night’s meeting is available on Facebook.

Source link


Click Here For The Original Source.


National Cyber Security