Schools could up security to prevent violence

"Security at South Whidbey's schools could become tighter and better monitored during the coming school year if the South Whidbey School Board can find the money to pay for it.As they have done in the aftermath of every other school shooting during the past three years, district administrators are taking a hard look at how secure South Whidbey schools are as the education community tries to recover from the recent school shooting in Santee, Calif. So far, that security has been phenomenal, according to district Superintendent Martin Laster, at least compared to other schools around the nation. All South Whidbey schools practice lockdown procedures twice a year, in which school staff have become adept at sheltering and accounting for students in the face of an outside threat. School buildings are better locked during school days than they used to be, forcing most visitors to go through school offices before gaining access to classrooms.To counter the internal threat from students, the district's zero tolerance weapons policy has snagged several students this school year at Langley Middle School and South Whidbey High School carrying small blade weapons such as pocket knives. And at the middle school, Langley police officers make regular rounds in the school's halls, playfields, and lunchroom. Regular patrols at South Whidbey High School are made by a campus supervisor hired by the school district.We have relatively safe schools, Laster said.But, he said, the district's security work is far from done. At a school board meeting Monday night, board members discussed the possibility of bringing more law enforcement officers onto school campuses on a regular basis and applying for grant money to pay for periodic school security assessments. Both moves would cost the district some money, Laster said, but could prove to be worth the investment -- especially if that investment keeps even one gun out of a school.All it takes is one, he said. Individual schools are also taking a proactive approach to preventing school violence. Last week, high school principal Mike Johnson and several of his students attended a diversity summit to better learn how to make all students at the school feel that they are part of a group. High school staff and peer mediators also spent time in the weeks before the California shooting watching a short MTV film called Warning Signs. The film, which will eventually be shown to all the school's students in health classes, shows signs to be aware of when someone becomes suicidal, is being bullied, or is contemplating a violent act.Johnson said that after the film, school counselors were able to identify several students who seemed to be in need of someone to talk to about school-related problems.Our number-one priority is to create a safe environment for learning, he said.At the elementary level, teachers and students are charged with finding ways to help all school children have friends and feel accepted. Also keeping the younger children safe, said Intermediate School Principal Doug Hale, are school staff members, who are trained to spot anyone or anything that does not belong in the schools. Hale said the high school athletic director John Patton was even snagged by a staff member when no one recognized him as he made a scheduled visit to the Intermediate School.Whether the district will have more police in the schools and security audits is something the board will decide when it starts its budgeting process this spring. This month's workshop meeting was held as a preliminary budget priority discussion. "

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