The deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last Friday brought school security back into the public eye.
School districts across the nation reassessed security procedures, and many stepped up police and security personnel presence. Helping children deal with the topic has been another key concern.
SBF contacted school transportation officials around the country to find out what their school districts have done in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
At Bethlehem Central School District in Delmar, N.Y., transportation staff members are constantly reminded to be observant and vigilant every day and to report anything unusual that they see or hear.
"I did meet with my office staff [on Monday] to go over our procedures for incidents and reminded them not to become complacent and always be on the alert for any person who may enter our facility that we may not be familiar with," said Al Karam, director of transportation. "There really isn’t anything more that we can do on the transportation side to be safer except to follow our protocols."
At Shelby County (Ala.) Schools, school bus drivers are maintaining awareness in the areas they serve, as they've been trained to do in the First Observer security program.
Also, Transportation Coordinator Kevin Snowden noted that his department has requested "increased police patrols from both county and local municipalities where we park our buses."
Brewster (N.Y.) Central School District silenced all AM/FM radios this week. Supervisor of Transportation Jack Coxen explained that the goal was to avoid having students prompted to discuss the Sandy Hook tragedy on the bus. The district was "hoping discussions in schools are a better site [with] more resources available," Coxen said.
At Fairfax (Va.) County Public Schools, the office of transportation services is "already very cautious, in view of our proximity to [Washington] D.C.," Director Linda Farbry said. She also noted that police have increased their presence at the county's schools this week.
Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore., tightened security about a month ago after a break-in in which tires were stolen.
"We have had a security guard on premise at night until we beef up our current camera and gate access system," Director of Transportation Michael Shields said.
Shields also noted that his district is preparing to send cards to Sandy Hook.
At Moorpark (Calif.) Unified School District, the transportation department will be conducting lockdown drills in the upcoming months in conjunction with a district-wide emergency preparedness drill.
The district has developed new radio messaging procedures so that drivers are alerted to emergencies. Before the preparedness drill, "we will have a training session for our dispatcher and office staff to implement these new emergency radio procedures," Director of Transportation Tony Briscoe said. Also, "our school sites are securing the gates and fences to pupil pickup and drop-off zones."
At Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pa., a key development since the Sandy Hook shooting has been the announcement of a new school safety task force, which will hold its first public meeting in January.
"Our transportation staff will be asked to play a role in this initiative," Transportation Supervisor Gerald Rineer said.
At Derry Township School District in Hershey, Pa., school bus staff members have been advised to not talk about the Sandy Hook tragedy and to stop or control conversations about it among students on the bus.
"Some parents of younger students may not have made their child aware of the incident, and we do not want them to find out about it on the bus," said David Yarian, director of transportation. "Also, we wanted parents to handle this in whatever way they feel is best for their child."
At Cache County (Utah) School District, Wayne Reese, administrator of transportation services, said that his department's current policy was developed with a focus on dealing with armed hijacking and hostage events.
"Our concern was someone wanting to use the children to exchange for something they wanted," Reese said. "Now we realize someone with a deranged mind and enough ammunition or a bomb could wipe out a school bus population in a very short time."
Accordingly, the department is working with law enforcement, school staff, counselors, parents and others to help with policy and procedure changes.
Bus drivers are also being reminded "to make sure they let no one on their bus who doesn't belong there," Reese said.
At Flagler County (Fla.) Public Schools, Training and Safety Specialist Jan Pannullo said that the district has added security presence just at school campuses.
At Denver Public Schools, Nicole Portee, executive director of transportation, said that her department has "reviewed protocols and enhanced awareness." Security items already in place include the following:
• All transportation employees must display badges at all times while on duty on district property.
• All staff will sign in and out of front offices at schools if they need to enter the schools.
• No parents are allowed on buses or to ride buses unless approved by transportation administrator.
• Bus lots are equipped with cameras.
Also, Portee said that the department has re-evaluated entrances and exits to transportation facilities and redirected traffic to main entrances.
And at Chesterfield (Va.) County Public Schools, staff members have been reminded to follow the district's prescribed and practiced protocols for emergencies.
"We asked drivers to continue to be vigilant and report any suspicious people or behaviors they might witness," said Dr. Robert Wingfield, director of pupil transportation. "Our video systems allow us to record inappropriate behaviors displayed by students or adults, and our comprehensive communication system allows for quick response from area offices and police when they are needed."
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