A proposed resolution on school safety led to a discussion Thursday on the district’s own protocols when it comes to informing classified staff and substitute teachers of any drills or actual emergencies that may be occurring.
While the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees liked some components of a school safety resolution drafted by the California School Boards Association following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they felt other parts were too broad and didn’t reflect the community.
CSBA’s resolution states Del Norte Unified School District supports the rights of students and staff to attend schools safe and free from violence and harassment, especially life-threatening forms of violence. It calls on the district to review discipline rules and procedures on its campuses, to work with community stakeholders and hold regular drills.
The resolution also calls on the district to urge California and the U.S. Congress to invest in services to prevent bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence on school campuses and provide funding for counselors, nurses and psychologists.
The resolution also calls upon the district to ask Congress to “pass specific legislation that reduces the risk and severity of gun violence on school campuses and repeals the prohibition against data collection and research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control.”
District Superintendent Jeff Harris told the school board drills are held regularly at Del Norte campuses including monthly fire drills and other drills such as lockdowns and shelter-in-place drills.
He said the sheriff’s office will often be involved in planning or carrying out lockdown drills, the fire department will be involved in the fire drills and both agencies would be involved for an active shooter drill or a chemical spill drill.
But in some places, the CSBA resolution “gets into the reeds,” Harris said.
“We want our schools to be as safe as they possibly can be from all kinds of issues, but is this the right tool and does this actually meet the needs of the board?” Harris asked. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea to pass a safety resolution, however I don’t think we need to be sheeple and take whatever CSBA throws at us and just rubber stamp it. If we want to do something, we can take the time to come up with something that really reflects our community values.”
Trustee Angela Greenough said she was concerned that while teachers may be informed and be able to plan for an emergency drill, many classified staff aren’t aware. They often find out on Facebook or receive a text message from a parent that there was a drill or an actual emergency, Greenough said.
“What are we doing internally communication-wise to make sure our staff are on the same page and not just certificated, but classified as well?” She asked. That’s what concerns me.”
Mary-Michelle Cupp, a teacher at Redwood School, said Greenough’s concern was similar to an issue aired at a recent school staff meeting, particularly when it came to lockdowns. The concern was what happens if something happens during the lunch period, she said, and teachers are in the staff lounge.
“You have the two or three people in the lunchroom with the kids that have never practiced a lockdown in the lunch room,” Cupp said. “We said we really wanted to make sure we had a drill during lunch time so that our lunch aides could take care of that and make sure we have drills during recess so kids know what to do.”
Board President Jamie Forkner also asked if substitute teachers are aware of a school’s safety protocol.
Coleen Parker, the district’s human resources director, said substitutes check in at the school’s office and receive a binder that includes the safety protocols. However, Parker said, it wouldn’t hurt to have a staff member at the school go over the safety plan with the sub.
Amber Tiedeken-Cron, president of the Del Norte Teachers Association, suggested holding training sessions on safety protocols for substitute teachers.
“It makes our life easier if they know how to run things too so that we’re not putting out an entire five page description of a fire drill on the day we know we’re having one in our lesson plans,” she said. “We’d know, oh yeah, this sub got training with us so they know what to do.”
Greenough also asked if there was a better way to inform classified staff and substitute teachers of a potential emergency at the school sites they work at. She noted that while many teachers were informed of a lockdown drill at Del Norte High School earlier this week, classified staff didn’t know about it.
“That was a scheduled drill,” she said. “Certificated knew, classified didn’t.”
Tiedeken-Cron said that might be a communication error. She noted when she taught special education her instructional aides were her responsibility.
“If I knew there was a drill at the staff meeting, it was my responsibility to get that information to them,” she said.
Harris also noted if there is an emergency at Del Norte High School, for example, the district and high school staff would be in the process of potentially evacuating about 900 students. In some cases, substitute teachers and other staff don’t have their phones on them or aren’t at a computer to read email, he said.
“What we’re doing is just getting the information to the teachers, who are our employees, who are out with kids, locking down 13 exterior doors, clearing an entire campus,” Harris said still using Del Norte High School as an example. “It’s almost to the point where it’s an impossible task to do, what we’re talking about right here, which is simultaneously notify everybody in a way that works for them at that particular time. You’re going to have people that are notified on Facebook, you’re going to have people that are notified via a school or district app, you’re going to have people who may get a call or a text on their phone.”
Harris said he’d bring an updated version of the resolution back to the school board in April.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .