Safety Planning and Prevention in the Westside Community Schools
SAFETY PLANNING AND PREVENTION IN THE WESTSIDE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS
Before becoming an administrator, I was a high school English teacher for 24 years, 11 of them at Westside High School. I still remember hearing about the shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999, which forever changed my outlook as an educator. From that day forward, I haven’t met a single teacher who hasn’t thought about where to hide his or her students in the event of a violent attack.
Over the ensuing 19 years, we’ve all-too-often been reminded of the need for preparedness. In our District, planning and preparing for the worst is a crucial part of what we do to provide a safe environment for all students.
The bond issue passed by Westside voters in 2015 provides for improved security at our buildings as part of our facilities master plan. Most existing buildings, and all new ones, now feature secure vestibules at the front entrance; visitors must be buzzed in before being allowed to enter the building or student learning areas. In upgrading our security infrastructure, we work with Omaha Police to design buildings that provide protection against potential threats. For example, despite its airy, open feel, the new Oakdale Elementary School was constructed to provide spaces in each classroom that keep students out of sight during a lockdown.
Here are a few other elements of our emergency planning:
- Each school’s building safety plan is reviewed and updated by its school safety team at least once per year to reflect changes in building layout, personnel, or procedure. Those plans, as well as the school’s facilities, are audited annually by officers of the Omaha Police Department during an onsite inspection visit.
- Students are trained in the Standard Response Protocol within the first few days of the start of school. Drills are then conducted so that students and staff can practice where to go and what to do in a real emergency. School safety teams, often with assistance from the Omaha Police Department, assess these drills and make adjustments as needed.
- Building safety plans require that emergency drills be practiced shortly after school starts and throughout the year. Between August and May, each building completes at least ten evacuation drills, two shelter drills, two lockdown drills, and one lockout drill. However, while practice is important, we also recognize that there is a fine line between preparing children and raising their anxiety to levels that interfere with learning; we continue to work to find that balance.
- Westside Community Schools is also fortunate to have two exemplary law enforcement professionals serving as Student Resource Officers (SROs). In addition to building positive relationships with students in all our schools, Officers Shannon Kinsey and Jeff Kilgore remain connected to their law enforcement colleagues, receiving weekly briefings from OPD and other agencies. Their training and expertise are critical components in keeping our safety and security protocols in top form.
Because the best defense is often a good offense, prevention is key. Here, two important tools are available to every member of our community. The first is vigilance. Marketing students at Westside High School are producing ‘See Something, Hear Something, Say Something’ signs to encourage those with concerns to report them to a trusted adult. Intervening with troubled individuals early has the potential to prevent untold suffering. We have made it easier to report such concerns—anonymously or otherwise—via both our website and social media. We hope that all families will have a conversation about the importance of speaking up when something seems not quite right.
The second, and perhaps, simplest prevention tool is kindness. So often, profiles of school shooters have revealed young people who felt, in one way or another, cut off from those around them. The idea of any teen or young adult feeling friendless, worthless, or invisible is unspeakably sad and should trouble us all. Working together as a community—students, staff, parents, and other adults—we must do all we can to ensure that every child feels accepted and valued. Not just because it might keep us safe, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. But because it’s the “Westside Way.”