School crisis procedures reviewed

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

By Lucy Parker

The Daily News

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Friday has prompted school systems around the nation, including those in Washington Parish, to review their safety procedures in an effort to avert future tragedies.

During the massacre, Adam Lanza, armed with a military-style rifle and two semi-automatic pistols, apparently shot his way through the school’s locked doors and then killed six adults and 20 children.

Bogalusa School System Acting Superintendent Willie “Toni” Breaux said city schools have had a plan in place for years that details the procedures to be followed in case of an emergency, including where the children are to be taken and who needs to be contacted.

The Washington Parish School System also has a comprehensive plan for emergency actions and procedures at each of its facilities.

During staff development days at the beginning of the year, the principal at each school in the Washington Parish system goes through the procedures with his or her staff, Superintendent Darrell Fairburn said. Any time a crisis such as the one in Newtown occurs, “we always try to look at what they’ve done compared to what we do and try to make improvements,” he said. Over the weekend, he said, he heard a school expert discuss how the best line of defense is ensuring teachers and administrators are prepared.

“And that’s certainly what we’re trying to do,” he said.

In a situation such as a shooting, the Washington Parish system schools would go into a lockdown and follow the emergency procedures in place, including contacting the appropriate authorities, Fairburn said. That might vary from situation to situation, but generally 911 would be called to get the first responders and emergency teams into the schools, he said.

Maj. Justin Brown said the Franklinton Police Department has evaluated the system’s plans “to make sure that they’re in accordance with steps we would be able to take to assist them in that process.”

Brown said the department does not disclose the specific plan it would follow as related to response efforts and providing emergency services following an incident at a school. However, he said, the department has in the past responded to incidents at schools, and officers continually educate themselves on trends taking place throughout the country and train on different types of scenarios.

“Each time something happens, we always learn something new, and we tailor our training for that,” he said. “We also make preparations for things that haven’t happened and train on those types of incidents as well.”

At all Washington Parish system schools, fire drills are done at least once a month and evacuation and lockdown drills at least twice a year, Fairburn said.

Breaux said regular evacuation, fire and emergency drills are done at Bogalusa schools as well.

Additionally, cameras are in place at some schools in both systems.

While the doors to Bogalusa schools are not locked on a day-to-day basis, certain gates on the fences are, Breaux said. The main gate is left open for safety purposes, and that entrance makes it easy to see who is coming in or out of the school, she said.

However, the gates are unlocked when the busses come to drop students off at school or pick them up, Breaux said. At those times, teachers are outside to monitor and ensure the safety of the students. After the students arrive at school in the morning and depart in the afternoon, the gates are locked again, she said.

Another safety measure in place at Bogalusa schools, Breaux said, is that every person who enters the building is required to sign in. Breaux said even she must sign in when she goes to a school. There are sign-in sheets for school board employees, school employees and visitors. Furthermore, many schools require people to get a visitor’s pass before going into a classroom, she said.

“They have to take those passes with them to the classroom and then return them when they are finished,” she said. “Before they enter the classroom, after they get the pass, the secretary has to call and let the teacher know a visitor is on the way.”

Likewise, the doors to the Washington Parish system schools are unlocked during the day, but visitors and personnel are required to sign in, Fairburn said. Additionally, all school personnel are required to wear identification tags. He acknowledged, though, that those measures are unlikely to stop a person looking to cause harm at a school.

“You try to monitor that, but a person like that, they’re not going to sign in,” he said. “It really keeps you on edge about things happening because there are so many scenarios when you’re dealing with people who are unstable.”

Bogalusa Assistant Police Chief Rocky Gerald said the Bogalusa Police Department keeps a close eye on the local schools, and that school personnel call to report things like the presence of a suspicious person around the school.

“You try to educate people on what you’re looking for, the kind of people you’re looking for,” he said. “If there’s anyone around the campus not supposed to be there, they are advised to make sure to call us so we can check these people out.”

In addition, members of the department’s SWAT team are trained to handle disaster response, Gerald said.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Bogalusa central office employees gathered in the media center for a moment of silence, and all schools were directed to take part in that observance simultaneously, Breaux said. She said she discussed the incident at Sandy Hook with her staff and instructed her principals to do the same with theirs.

A tragedy like the one in Connecticut could happen anywhere, Breaux said, and that means safety measures currently in place need to be examined.

“I feel that it’s something everybody needs to look at because nobody ever really thinks it’s going to happen to them,” she said. “We do need to take some special precautions to beef up safety.

“We do have safety polices and practices in place, but they’re going to have to become more stringent. I am going to work on that and discuss that with the board, because the safety of our children is first and foremost.”

Friday’s tragedy was also acknowledged Monday in the Washington Parish system, with many of its schools permitting students to wear green and white, the school colors at Sandy Hook, Fairburn said.

“We’ve just tried to be reassuring with our students and be very visible with our students to let them know that we’re watching out for them as best we can,” he said. “Hopefully that never occurs with us, but no one is exempt.”