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Task force offers ideas to make schools safer

In two meetings prompted by the massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School, a Pinellas County task force developed 40 ideas for improving the safety of the county's schools.

The task force, composed of representatives of schools, law enforcement, parents and community leaders, organized the ideas into six categories and listed the top two ideas in each category as the highest priority.

The School Board will hear from the public and discuss the task force recommendations in the near future. Watch the Times for an announcement of the date and location.

Here are the task force recommendations:

Prevention programs

The committee recognized that the district has many programs in place and recommended the following:

1. Develop a position of director of school safety, whose responsibility will be to coordinate school safety plans (people, places, facilities).

2. Require training for all emergency situations to include all personnel and require practice drills _ one each semester.

3. Introduce value/character education in all schools at all levels.

4. Implement student assistance programs that provide a system to identify troubled students and a referral process for students to follow.

5. Develop a plan to use student and parent leaders to communicate available prevention programs through the use of town meetings, student newspapers, back-to-school nights, announcements, etc. This would teach students when it is important to report information without fear of reprisal.

6. Consider expanding counselor positions and require that students meet with their counselor at least once a year.

7. Advocate teacher training programs at the college/university level for teachers to learn skills dealing with conflict, behavior identification and anger management.

8. Use trained teachers to visit classrooms to orientate students on how to inform adults of safety concerns, tips on dealing with peers, and provide handouts for students and parents to review.

Technology

1. Recommend that common-area surveillance cameras be available for schools making requests.

2. Use bar code technology for student ID cards and require students to wear them.

3. Have telephone access in each classroom. Designate a phone line for emergencies only.

4. Equip all school buses with radios and security cameras.

5. Ensure up-to-date radio equipment is available to school staff.

6. Use teleconferencing or videos to disseminate safe school training for work force.

7. Provide adequate lighting and intrusion equipment for all sites.

8. Supply hand-held metal detectors for use in schools where they are needed.

9. Study feasibility of "Kid Chat Rooms" for students to voice concerns.

Facilities

1. Ensure that every school site safety plan be site-specific and personalized for students, staff and local law enforcement.

2. Conduct a security and safety analysis of all Pinellas County school facilities by trained personnel.

3. File updated school site plans with local law enforcement agencies.

4. Use school facilities for student activities and consider use of "safe night" programs for children to have places to go with adult supervision.

Training

1. Train teachers and school personnel and parents to identify warning signs of troubled students and how to report them. Train staff on how to implement school safety plans.

2. Train students on how to handle conflicts and emergency situations.

3. Develop videos for students showing them how to react to rumors and critical incidents.

Personnel

1. Develop districtwide safe school coordinator position (refer to prevention program recommendations).

2. Identify a student assistant counselor at each school to manage training, information and safe school responsibilities.

3. Ensure that school staffs complete training annually in safe school procedures.

4. Provide annual training to building administrators in how to use safety plans.

5. Provide security at alternative programs: i.e. Norwood, North Ward, Safety Harbor, etc.

6. Train support personnel to be "extra eyes" for identifying potential trouble.

7. Provide monitors on buses and provide a police officer at the 49th Street and Lealman bus compounds.

8. Require countywide ID photos for substitute teachers.

School Policy (School Board policy/Code of Student Conduct):

1. Require a review of crisis response and policies relating to safe schools. Focus on communication, practice drills, revising plans to be site-specific and coordinating with local law enforcement agencies.

2. Develop a template for assignment of responsibilities to school personnel in critical incidents.

3. List emergency procedures for students in the Code of Conduct.

4. Provide a behavior expectation policy for all participants at school functions.

5. Encourage greater communication and teamwork among all agencies working with the school system.

6. Evaluate opening and closing times and the effect on students. Evaluate recess for elementary students.

7. Include help-line phone number and phone numbers for school resource officers in high schools' emergency plans.

8. Review safety issues and procedures with parents at Open House.

Up next:Clean start

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