Antietam School District revises school safety plan

Panic buttons among improvements

LOWER ALSACE TWP., Pa. - More than 30 Antietam School District parents, teachers, and other staff members attended a school safety presentation Thursday evening.

Melissa Brewer, Antietam's superintendent, presented an overview of the district's revised all-hazards plan, which was coordinated closely with local law enforcement.

Central Berks Regional police Sgt. Terry Heydt was present at the meeting to speak about the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) system that he has been teaching to district staff and students.

"This isn't linear," said Heydt of the ALICE system. "These are options that we're giving people. We're training the staff in how to apply those options. This is about getting people thinking before something happens."

Brewer outlined 14 crisis types in the plan, ranging from severe weather to an active shooter, six in-place protocols and the roles and responsibilities of staff, administration and the Berks County Intermediate Unit.

Brewer said the the BCIU has a trained team in place specifically to handle crises within county school districts.

"Response protocols are where we spend the most amount of time training, orienting and reviewing with our staff and students where age appropriate," she said.

Brewer said the six protocols taught are: restricted movement, lockdown, barricade/counter, lockout, evacuation and shelter-in-place.

"[We are] practicing these six response protocols with students and staff with a varied sort of schedule, but we need students to understand what these mean," she said.

She added that the context and severity of the situation dictate the appropriate response protocol, and each classroom contains a copy of the all-hazards plan which is color-coded for teachers.

Another safety measure the school has taken is randomly searching students as they enter the building.

One security feature Brewer touted was the installation of panic buttons in district offices. She said the buttons will be installed by the end of next week and will alert the appropriate parties in an emergency.

Brewer said the district needs to formulate a communication plan for parents and guardians so they can be notified in a timely manner in an emergency, but a conversation is needed with administrators to decide when and in what situation it's appropriate to notify parents.

A situation such as a restricted movement to allow a K9 team in the building to sniff for drugs may not warrant a communication as opposed to a lockdown because of a threatening school intruder, irate parent or active shooter.

One parent mentioned that, since most kids now have phones, the majority of any communication comes instantly from one student or another, which spreads concern to other parents, even if it may be a small situation.

Fire Marshal Richard Gerhart also spoke briefly at the meeting of an incident that occurred 10 years ago, where a student stabbed three other students in a classroom after he'd taken a duffel bag containing knives and a blow torch into the school.

The story gained national media attention afterwards and prompted the district to review its safety and hazards procedures. One result was the creation of student-rallying points off campus, where they can meet and their parents can look for them after a hazard situation.

"I think where we started to lose control of the event was when parents wanted to get here, get their children, because this situation was prolonged. When the kids got out of the building, that's when things got chaotic. Now, we have this point where they're going to go, and the parents can go get them," Gerhart said.

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