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Southern Ulster TimesMarlboro deals with school safety

Marlboro deals with school safety

In the wake of the recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida, the Marlboro School district has been discussing their safety and security measures that are in place in the district.

Superintendent Michael Brooks said the past few weeks have been particularly difficult for everyone in education “because we are seeing images on the screen that we shouldn’t be seeing in schools. I have spent an awful lot of time thinking and commiserating when I see those images.” He said recent events have forced discussions that “should not be happening but unfortunately must take place.” Brooks said there is a strong, established communications network in Marlboro that keeps the administration, faculty and staff well informed of what is happening on the school campuses.

Police Chief Gerald Cocozza said his department meets with the Marlboro School District on a regular basis.

“We will continue to work with the school and continue to implement new ideas as things change to ensure the safety of our kids,” he said.

Recently, the district has been reviewing their perimeter security, their internal safety and security measures for students and staff, the management of visitors, emergency response coordination with local First Responders, how they handle internal student incidents, after school access to the facilities, extra-curricular and sporting events and looking at their wellness and relationship efforts on behalf of students, families and staff. Brooks said these categories form the backbone of a “very solid plan” the district has in place to deal with events like Parkland.

In a slide presentation, Michael Bakatsias, the district’s Safety Coordinator, gave a “broad strokes” overview of the ongoing efforts that are employed by the district to safeguard students and staff.

Bakatsias said a School Safety Team meets monthly and consists of two Student Resource Officers, key Administration personnel, two Board of Education members, representatives from the Marlborough Fire Department, Mobile Life Support Services and Law Enforcement officials from Ulster County and the NYS Police Department. They check the school’s physical plant, both inside and out, and review safety personnel, procedures and resources that are used. Bakatsias said the district has various school monitors “who act as greeters and see people in and out of the buildings. They really are the eyes and ears of the Principals in those buildings.”

Bakatsias said the state requires numerous annual safety drills; 1 early dismissal, 8 evacuations, 4 lock-downs and 3 bus training sessions. The district also has First Aid kits, Automated External Defibrillators and emergency Go Bags that are readily available.

Bakatsias said during the school day the district is in lock out mode and an official district badge is needed to gain access into a building, which is done through a single point of entry. He said there is an expansive indoor and outdoor surveillance camera system to monitor each school campus.

High School Principal Ryan Lawler said his school is constantly evaluating their preparations and responses to emergency situations. The High School has automatic locking mechanisms in their classroom doors, a camera system that provides a live-feed to the Marlborough Police Department and they conduct staff and student training sessions and drills. In addition, the High School just initiated voluntary “open and honest” discussions during lunch periods and recently held a school assembly that stressed, “if you see something, say something, ‘run, hide, fight’, hold in place and defined what is a lockdown while advising students on what they should do during an active shooter incident.”

“It’s important that we know what they’re thinking [students], that they know what we’re thinking and that we have planned drills,” he said.

Middle School Principal Debra Clinton said her school shares three SRO officers, saying they are “invaluable” to her school community.

“They meet and talk to students and are such an important part of our team,” she said.

Clinton said they try to make every one of their 450 students feel a “sense of belonging” to their school…it is important for them to feel they have an adult to talk to and someone they can trust.”

Clinton said they hold monthly Olweus Bullying Prevention meetings and also have a Building Safety Team that can offer insights into additional safety measures that could be incorporated at the Middle School. There are also scheduled assemblies and targeted location drills that focus on student safety.

Clinton said they monitor their safety protocols in order to target areas of concern and where they can “fine tune” their programs.

Elementary School Principal Patricia Walsh said they share two SROs with the Middle School and have a single point of entry where visitors are buzzed in and met by a greeter and issued a pass. They have security cameras inside and outside the school that are constantly monitored. Additionally, all classroom doors are placed in the lock position at all times during the school day.

Walsh said they provide character education instruction by Social Workers in all 40 classrooms in the school, with an eye for children who may be at risk; “some may be coming with baggage from home and things that we need to address to make sure they are feeling strong.” The Response To Intervention [RTI] plan was developed for students in need and are communicated to the parents.

Walsh said their building safety team meets on a monthly basis, “and our social, emotional wellness team of our social workers, psychologists and administrators every week.”

Walsh has convened a faculty safety forum to solicit their input on safety issues to determine what measures need improvement and what is working well. The school also has a Positive Behavior Intervention System in place, “and our Responsive Classroom Social Curriculum that teaches children at a very young age skills that they may not always come to us with, and building them up.”

Rosanne Mele, Director of Social Services, said each school has a large support staff to handle health and wellness issues and crisis situations. The High School has three Guidance Counselors, a student assistance counselor, a psychologist, an SRO and a Nurse who are there on a daily basis. The Middle School has two Guidance Counselors, a Social Worker, a Psychologist, a shared SRO and a Nurse. At the Elementary level there are two Social Workers, a Psychologist, an SRO and two Nurses. She noted that many of these individuals are trained in the Crisis Incident Stress Management [CISM] program that was secured through Orange/Ulster BOCES as part of a countywide crisis team aimed at supporting school districts should there be an incident.

Mele said they have recently held Mental Health Round Table discussions in each school to gather information and to evaluate what professional help may be needed to assist students and staff.

“From those round tables we’ll be moving on to creating professional development activities, programs and concepts for each building and for the district as a whole to support health and wellness for both students, teachers and faculty,” she said.

Brooks said these highlighted efforts gives a picture “of our current status.” He said there may be additional options for the district and the school board to consider to proactively protect students and teachers. He said he cannot reveal the deeper details of the district’s plans but said it is important for the public to know that the school district takes student and school safety and security very seriously.

By Mark Reynolds

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