The Washington Safety Task Force is making strides in bringing together all interested schools, public and private, and first responders to review safety strategies, improve communication and provide training.
“It’s really coming alive from the standpoint that we’re all sharing information, learning from each other and most importantly, getting on the same page as a community as to how we respond in the event of a crisis,” said Andy Robinson, safety coordinator for the Washington School District, who chairs the committee.
The committee, which was formed by the district, has representation from most of the local Catholic grade schools, Immanuel Lutheran, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School and other public school districts in Franklin County.
Washington emergency medical service, fire and police departments, as well as sheriff’s deputies from Franklin, St. Charles and Warren counties, also are represented on the committee, which meets regularly at the Washington Police Department.
The group convened again recently and discussed safety legislation, safety walk-throughs, school bus safety and crisis communication, among other topics.
Several schools also gave updates on safety initiatives they’re working on. For instance, St. Francis Borgia Grade School reported it has formed a safety committee and is working on a new crisis manual and reunification plan.
Immanuel Lutheran reported it has formed a safety committee as well and will conduct safety walk-throughs. The school also is working on “to go bags” in the event of an emergency, facility improvements, proximity cards and becoming NIMS (National Incident Management System) compliant.
Dr. David Shelton, director of administrative services for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was at the meeting and discussed how safety visits have been made at 124 elementary schools, nine high schools and 25 PSR sites in the archdiocese.
Dr. Shelton said the archdiocese also is working on having all of its administrators NIMS certified and is focusing on safety audits on perimeter security, interior security and training.
He also invited committee members to attend the Archdiocesan Health and Safety Summit June 5.
Robinson will be a presenter at the summit, giving a presentation on how to form a community task force.
The school resource officer for the Union School District discussed background checks for volunteers working in the schools and said it can vary from school to school. He also talked about safety training and how Union utilizes a “superintendent’s binder” that contains all necessary information on the schools, maps and emergency phone numbers.
Robinson told The Missourian the school reports are very valuable and lead to good discussion among members, especially law enforcement and first responders, who weigh in on the importance of communication, police protocols and the need for training.
“Training is important,” said Robinson, adding all of the schools conduct various drills throughout the school year.
“I think we’ll be looking at implementing some other types of trainings next year, like the active shooter drills,” he said. “Exactly how that will work, I don’t know yet.”
Senate Bill 75, which Gov. Jay Nixon signed this past summer, will require public school administrators and teachers next year to participate in an “active shooter and intruder” drill.
The piece of the legislation, which also encourages schools to teach a gun accident prevention course to first-graders, was a direct response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Some school districts in Missouri have already conducted these drills, utilizing teachers and student volunteers.
Washington School District administrators earlier this school year participated in an active shooter tabletop exercise with the police department.
Robinson said safety and crisis plans are important, but ineffective if the proper training is not done.
Also present at the meeting was the Franklin County emergency management director who gave a countywide perspective in regard to school safety and training opportunities in the future, Robinson said. An example, he said, would be a training for all school resource officers in the county.
“It’s all about collaboration,” he said. “No school is alone in dealing with this and we can all learn from each other if we work together which makes our community safer as a whole.”
The safety task force will meet again April 17.