Special Message from Dr. Tony Baldwin
Special Message from Dr. Tony Baldwin
Posted on 02/28/2018
Please see the message below regarding school safety from BCS Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin.

In the wake of the tragedy that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we continue to not only grieve for the seventeen lives lost but consider ways to prevent or mitigate any similar occurrence on one of our 42 Buncombe County School campuses.

While safety has remained the highest of priorities for many years, a school shooting like Parkland elevates an emphasis on safe schools to the utmost highest of levels. Over the past several days, crisis response teams within each of our schools have been diligently reviewing safety protocols in the event of an emergency as well as updating assessments concerning the strengths and weaknesses of their campus and building layouts. Discussions are being led by local first responders including representatives from law enforcement, fire safety, and emergency management. Working in tandem with school staff, potential crises are simulated through tabletop discussions and functional exercises. In turn, school principals have led conversations with teachers and support staff to review both general and functional protocols as well as to address issues and concerns. During these reviews, the emergency management guides developed for school staff provide concise checklists for responding to various types of emergencies.

In Buncombe County Schools, all school principals, assistant principals and central office directors are required to obtain certification through the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and trained to manage emergencies under the guidelines of an Incident Command System (ICS). Training in this manner allows school personnel to better integrate quality preparedness and response with local first responders in the event of a crisis. Perhaps more importantly, continued recertification allows our staff to be updated on changes in best practices as determined by national safety experts.

Periodic drills represent an important role in establishing a safe school environment for our students and staff. Perimeter and full lockdown drills are mandatory in all schools along with monthly fire evacuation drills required by the state. At all three levels – elementary, middle and high, we have successfully conducted full-scale evacuations and family reunifications to off-campus sites. Each training session involved local first response agencies including Mission Hospital and utilized multiple community sites for reunification. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department periodically conducts drills on our school campuses including active shooter response training.

Every school is required to annually conduct a comprehensive survey of their building’s interior and exterior from the standpoint of school safety. While our newest buildings, especially those built after Columbine, were designed with safety as a high priority, aged school buildings with expansive campuses pose greater challenges. All twenty-seven elementary schools contain buzz-in systems at entrances. Similar systems are scheduled for phase-in at our middle and high schools. Security cameras have strategically been placed throughout our school campuses as well as on our school buses. Both district administration and local law enforcement have web-based access to detailed building blueprints in addition to school video systems. Electronic visitor check-in systems are utilized at all schools. Safe school technology is also represented in a comprehensive automated messaging system that supports the integral role communication plays in emergency preparedness and management.

From a support personnel standpoint, Buncombe County Sheriff Deputies serve in the role of school resource officers. These SROs are assigned by the Sheriff’s Department at each middle and high school. An additional resource officer is assigned to each of the six districts and is dedicated to the elementary schools. Our six traditional high schools also employ security staff to daily monitor campus entrances and exits as well as parking lots. While SROs are trained to respond to acts that threaten the safety of students and staff, it is their role in establishing a positive rapport with students and preventing crises from happening that represent equal if not greater importance.

In closing, I want to ensure our parents and community stakeholders that the safety of students and staff remains the highest of priorities in day-to-day operations of our schools. As we continue to explore options to make our schools safer including enhanced training protocol, specialized support staff, and the newest safe school technology, I keep going back to a comment made by Mike Dorn, nationally recognized as an expert on school safety. In leading our district-wide safe schools training, Mike frequently reminded us that the key to a safe school lies in the eyes, ears, and mouths of staff and students. This advice resonated in the recent words of officials following the Parkland tragedy – see something, hear something, say something. Having heightened awareness regarding communications (including social media) or behaviors that represent possible threats to safety is a significant factor in prevention. Reinforced through programs such as Positive Behavior Support and Compassionate Schools, BCS students are listening, observing and reporting at an increased rate. Matching our students’ heightened awareness and follow-up communication is important for all community stakeholders as we strive to prevent a crisis rather than respond to one. While we will continue to diligently prepare for responding to an emergency through detailed planning and drill, improving our ability for prevention remains extremely important.
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