Officials share strategies to keep Monroe students safe
MONROE — Following the February 2018 school shootings in Parkland, Florida, the City Council asked the Monroe Police Department and school district what proactive measures they were taking to maintain safe schools.
At the June 19 council meeting, they got some answers.
Mayor Geoffrey Thomas and interim Police Chief Larry Dickerson began by acknowledging the grave safety issues facing the nation and county.
“A lot of stuff happens that we don’t hear about,” Dickerson said. “The safety of our kids is really important. We don’t want something like happened in Parkland to happen here.”
The city and school district are working on a number of fronts to ensure that that doesn’t happen—but are also educating students and staff about what to do if they are threatened.
In 2017, the school district hired Greg Burns as Safety and Risk Officer to head the newly-created Safety and Risk Department. During the 2017/2018 school year, Burns helped implement the Move/Evade/Defend (MED) program in Monroe schools.
“Move” means that moving away from a violent person might be the safest option, depending on circumstances; “Evade” includes lockdowns, including barricading classrooms; lockouts if the threat is from off-campus; and hiding. “Defend” is when the first two are not viable options and “defending yourself might be an appropriate option if confronted by a violent intruder,” according to district materials.
At the council meeting, Burns said MED was “not just a response…(but) a prevention strategy” to help students and staff know what to do if there is a violent intruder or other threatening situation.
“I give teachers the tools to make the best decisions they can,” Burns said.
The MED program is recommended by the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, according to school data. MED drills will be incorporated into regular drill schedules throughout the district.
Justin Springer, an officer with the Monroe Police Department, has served as the School Resource Officer (SRO) for the school district since 2013. In that capacity, Springer works four ten-hour shifts weekly, with most of his time spent at Monroe High School.
In an inter-agency agreement, the city of Monroe pays 30 percent of Springer’s salary and the school district pays 70 percent, said city administrator Deborah Knight.
In addition, the city pays $5,000 for annual “Active Shooter Training” for the SRO. Last year, Springer attended the Washington School Safety Organization Conference and received a “Police Response to Active Shooter Instructor Certificate.”
Knight praised the efforts of Monroe School District Superintendent Fredrika Smith. “Together with the school district we are implementing the ‘best practices,’” she said, referring to a list of actions the district has taken to improve safety.
Smith in turn praised Springer during the meeting and in a follow-up interview.
“It really, really matters” that you have the right person in the SRO job, she said. Springer is “somebody who can connect with kids and teachers.” He is trusted, and is a strong role model,” she said. The school district is also focusing on other “proactive approaches” to safety, Smith said, including the use of behavioral health staff to help students with social and emotional needs—and to support families in crisis. Improving building security and communication with teachers are also high priorities.
For example, a new school building has a point of entry only through the main office and visitors must have photo I.D. badges with a “time stamp” feature—to ensure that their information is “real and current,” Smith said.
“We want to make sure all visitors feel welcome,” while maintaining student safety, she said.
Council members, law enforcement representatives, and school officials agree that good and timely communication is key—between themselves, between potentially-troubled students and trusted adults, and between parents and school officials.
A special safety edition of the district’s newsletter will be mailed to residents within its boundaries at the end of June, said district spokeswoman Tamara Krache.
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