Police tell parents that schools are about the safest place for children to be. But news accounts of violence in schools across the nation can’t help but weigh on parents’ minds.
Some good news: A recent outside audit of safety procedures in RISD found much to applaud. School officials, although pleased, don’t intend to rest on past successes. Plans for district schools include possibly testing a key card lock system at the new Freshman Center in Lake Highlands; increasing staff development so that all staff members are well-versed in district programs and procedures; and tailoring some safety programs to the needs of individual schools.
Ted Moulton, district executive director of extended programs, says the audit by the National Alliance of Safe Schools was sought as part of a periodic check on district safety.
“We just wanted someone on the outside to look at what we’re doing,” Moulton says. “There has been a lot of attention in the last few months on violence on campus with the shootings and such taking place nationwide.”
Initiatives praised by the report include the presence of a police officer at every secondary and high school in the district. These officers aren’t merely posted at the school door as guards. They talk to and develop relationships with students, contribute their expertise to classroom discussions; and keep watch on visitors and activities with the building.
“They establish good rapport with the students, even with those that at first have a negative perception of law enforcement,” Moulton says. “Many students are comfortable talking with the officers, and with them sharing advice.”
Another districtwide success is equipping every teacher with a cell phone, so in an emergency situation the school office or 9-1-1 can quickly be reached. Not as obviously safety-focused, but just as important, are programs for students related to behavior. These include drug education (tobacco products are included); peer helpers who advise other students; peer mediation; support groups; and conflict resolution. Even that old-time fixture, the schoolyard bully, is addressed in a bully prevention program.
“Bullies have been around forever,” Moulton says. “We teach them how to deal with and respond to someone trying to bully them.”
“There is lots of conflict resolution taught,” he says. “We want to give them the appropriate tools to use in many situations. They learn how to deal with a conflict situation in an appropriate way.”