March 5, 2018

School districts across the nation have spent much time and effort on reassessing and improving security and safety processes since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre on February 14. At St. James R-I Schools we are fortunate to have a great partnership with all pieces of our local law enforcement. Immediately after the Florida incident, the school district and the St. James Police department met again to reassess the present state of the district’s security and reviewed our Crisis Management Plan. This ongoing dialogue will continue to cover student safety and communication protocols for different safety scenarios.

Last week we received notification about two separate verbal threats against the school. In both cases, the District took immediate action, prohibiting these students from all school property and contacted the relevant authorities. During both incidents, extensive questioning and investigation by our administrators and local authorities revealed that neither student made a genuine threat and that no students or teachers were ever in danger.

As Superintendent of Schools, an educator and a parent, I want to reassure you that student and teacher safety is a top priority. It is top-of-mind for educators across the country as we dedicate resources to keep our school communities safe. Our District maintains a safe and caring educational environment through clear behavioral expectations, positive behavior interventions and supports, and crisis planning and preparedness. We also continue to work with local law enforcement when necessary to assure school safety.

In my role as a school leader, however, I must also ask for your help in this process. As adults, we may have been shaken and disturbed by recent events in our country’s schools, and while they may not voice it on their own, our children are just as impacted, if not more so. They are in need of our support and reassurance.

Our students are always invited to share their thoughts and concerns with teachers, counselors and others – either in the classroom or privately. But, I invite our parents and community to join in the discussion. Please talk with your children about these incidents as they occur and encourage them to share their feelings and their fears.

In light of everything our students are seeing on television and online and through social media, it is important for them to understand that violence is never a solution to personal problems. Moreover, our students must be reminded – both at school and at home – that a threat of violence can be just as dangerous. If a student is struggling with anger, depression, or any other emotion that is getting the better of them, we have to provide them with an alternative to expressing that momentary frustration through a vocabulary of threatened violence.

I have also heard some conversation in the community about the importance of assuring that safety upgrades are not forgotten as we strive to pass the bond initiative on April 3. The architect’s proposed design will allow students to access the high school art room without going outside, thus eliminating the use of an exterior door that is currently accessible by someone who may have harmful intent. It will also address the isolation of the pre-k buildings from the main campus at the elementary. With the consolidation of the pre-k into one new building attached to the elementary school, those students will be safer in the event of a perpetrator targeting those buildings. The safety of our students has been and will continue to be a priority. In the past, all new handles that automatically lock when the door is closed have been installed on all classroom doors - and teachers are advised to keep their doors closed during class. A new, more secure entrance to the high school and elementary school were put into place where access to the school is limited. Outer doors are locked and it is emphasized that no one should open those doors unless exiting in an emergency. Hallway cameras are on full time. There have been active shooter drills and A.L.I.C.E. training on a yearly basis. Both instruct teachers in the latest practices in the event of an emergency. Every teacher has emergency supplies in their classrooms which can assist in first aid and other needs in the event of an emergency. With the guidance and communication with local law enforcement, the District administration will continue to seek every conceivable precaution to keep our children safe.

Given the time we live in, our District will always take the threat of school violence seriously, responding swiftly and thoroughly to protect all of our students. I know that because of the efforts of our staff, local law enforcement, our parents, and our community, we will work through these issues together and provide the best possible education for our students.