An Open Letter from School Superintendent Jon Sills – Changes to School Safety Procedures

Bedford-Schools-LogoDear Bedford Public Schools Families and Staff,

We got off to a strong start in all four buildings last week.  After visiting each school, I can report that the positive energy and enthusiasm were quite palpable.   Providing a safe environment for our students and staff is our number one priority, and I am writing to you today to share some important information regarding impending changes to our crisis response protocols.

School Safety Procedures Changing

The Bedford Public Schools will be updating our crisis response procedures this year.  During the months following the Sandy Hook tragedy, Bedford’s School Safety Task Force, composed of parents, professional security experts, administrators, police and fire department representatives, met and made a set of recommendations to the Bedford School Committee.   The equipment-related recommendations, like enhanced front door security at each of the district’s four schools, have since been implemented.

Recommended, but not yet implemented, was a change to our lock down procedures, and it is to that important change that the schools are now turning.

In keeping with the most recent recommendations from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and police departments across the country, Governor Patrick this July endorsed the ALICE (Alert, Lock Down, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) protocol for Massachusetts schools.  This protocol, which our own School Safety Task Force recommended, differs from the traditional school response in that staff members are trained to use their discretion as to whether to evacuate students if the opportunity presents itself.

Historically, schools have trained their staff to lock their doors, turn off the lights, move students to a corner of the classroom, and remain there until alerted that the danger has passed.  While this will remain as the common response to an intruder alert, law enforcement agencies have determined that if the opportunity arises in a part of the building not immediately being threatened, there is a greater chance of assuring the students’ safety if the teacher were to lead them out of the building.

During the past few years, ALICE has been the center of some debate because it includes, among the choices given to students and teachers in secondary schools, the option of actively resisting as a very last resort if a shooter actually breaches the classroom door.  As an alternative to huddling in the corner when confronted with an actual shooter, and with nowhere to flee, secondary school students and staff are trained to throw objects to distract him while they either flee or overwhelm him.  While this aspect of the protocol has garnered some public attention, there has been a fair amount of misunderstanding about its intent.   In fact, the “counter” option is only considered as a VERY LAST RESORT when escape is not possible and when potential victims find themselves face to face with an active shooter.  This is the aspect of ALICE that is least likely to actually be put in practice.  Much more important is the protocol’s central tenet which is that discretion, particularly in creating the opportunity for more students and staff to evacuate quickly, should replace lock step uniformity, in those situations where proximity allows for a more modulated response.

The Bedford Public Schools will train our staff and students at Bedford High School and John Glenn Middle School this fall.  Once the schools have worked through the process with our older students, we will train the staff members at Davis and Lane Schools to use their discretion to evacuate should the opportunity arise in the event of a school intruder situation.  Please know that we are sensitive to the emotional stress that this topic evokes in our students and staff.  Our Crisis Team takes this into consideration when planning for training and drills, and we have multiple years of practice doing “lock down” drills in all of our schools.

When we do train our elementary teachers to use their discretion about whether or not to evacuate and subsequently hold school-wide drills, the explanations given to our young students will age-appropriate as they have always been, clearly without reference to “armed intruders”.

Our district-wide crisis team meets regularly and includes both police and fire department personnel.  Our school resource officers have been trained in the ALICE protocol and our crisis team coordinator and several assistant principals are about to be trained this month before we bring the training to our BHS and JGMS staffs.  The Bedford Police Department, along with 58 other municipal police departments, belongs to NEMLEC, the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, a consortium of police and sheriff departments that supports all of its member districts.

Bedford police and Bedford Public Schools personnel also belong to the STARS team (School Threat Assessment and Response), a schools-focused subdivision of NEMLEC whose members are are trained to address potential and actual violent school-based situations. STARS has also endorsed, and provides training for, the ALICE program.

I am confident that this change represents an important evolution in the thinking of emergency response personnel, based unfortunately, upon what has been learned from such tragedies as Sandy Hook.  Please feel free to contact my office or your building principal with any questions.  The Governor’s report on school safety is a comprehensive and informative source of information for those who are interested.  https://www.mass.gov/edu/docs/eoe/school-safety-security/school-safety-report.pdf

Jon

Jon Sills
Superintendent
Bedford Public Schools
781-275-7588
jon_sills@bedford.k12.ma.us

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