Safety at public schools has been tested in recent years, and schools are doing their best to prevent anything bad from happening to the students who enter their doors every morning expecting the day to be no scarier than a pop quiz or a bad grade on a test.
Nationwide, public schools have developed some kind of emergency and safety plan. Students at some schools are greeted by metal detectors as they walk through the school doors. Other schools have elected to have students, faculty and staff wear identification cards and students have to put their school and personal items in either clear plastic or mesh backpacks or bags so school authorities can see if a student is trying to sneak in a weapon. Local schools have yet to go that far, though.
Years before the madness of Westside and Columbine, one would never have dreamed of seeing a school emergency plan that included everything from bomb threats to hostage situations. Now, it seems to be standard procedure along with the ordinary fire drills and severe weather situations.
Some Izard, Fulton and Sharp County schools have put in place emergency plans since the shootings at West- side and Columbine. There are also schools that have updated their emergency plans in response to some of the recent college shootings like Virginia Tech and University of Central Arkansas.
Izard County Consolidated's emergency response manuel has a calling tree for faculty and staff to use in case of an emergency on the school campus. The plan also deals with counseling services in the event of a death of a student or member of the school's staff. There are also media procedures to follow during an event when someone from the school is asked for an interview from a newspaper, radio or television station.
Salem School's emergency plan includes activating the SchoolReach mass messaging system to parents and guardians alerting them of the situation. It also instructs faculty and staff on some first aid procedures including CPR and ways to stop bleeding in case a specially trained staff person is not available. The plan also goes through what to do in case a student is suffering from an allergic reaction.
All drills must be taken seriously. The last bullet on the fire drill section of the plan states, "The way you (teachers) handle your class (during a drill) could save a life in the future."
High school principal, Wayne Guiltner said the plan is covered every year with the teachers. "We look at new situations that might arise at other schools," Guiltner said. "It's been a successful plan so far."
Viola Public Schools' managing school emergencies flip chart is unique in that it has procedures to follow in the event of a missing or abducted student. It also instructs faculty and staff on what to do in case a fight breaks out between students and how to calm students down. The emergency plan also tells faculty and staff the warning signs of a student who might be on drugs.
Highland High School and Cherokee Elementary both have emergency plans. Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver has played a great role in organizing these plans and ensuring that both school staff and area officers are aware and trained on these plans.
Both schools have a phone tree to be followed in case of an emergency. The sheriff's department has detailed blueprints of the schools to help in case they need to enter any of the buildings. One of the important things Sheriff Weaver has implemented is zones for an emergency.
In the event of an emergency situation there are separate specified areas for parents and students, emergency medical technicians, police force and media. Sheriff Weaver said by appointing these areas before anything happens, it will help with the amount of chaos if something should ever happen.
Some common emergency plans for all the schools are bus accidents, bomb threats, fire, hazardous spills or leaks, injury, intruder situations, suicidal students, violent situations, weapon situations and severe weather.
Though public schools may focus on preventing a catastrophe and what to do in case of an emergency, it is just as important to figure out how to deal psychologically with a traumatic event after it has happened.
The overview of the ICC manuel states, "It is Izard County Consolidated School's philosophy that a preplanned and organized approach is more effective in reducing psychological and social difficulties following a crisis in a school."
Salem Schools have a plan on what to do the first day of school after a traumatic event. Students will be given time to talk about what happened and how they feel, and a counselor will be on hand for any student who needs help. Teachers will also monitor students who might be trying to conceal their emotions.
Local hospitals are also on alert if a mass catastrophy happens at a school or in the community. "Upon notification of a local emergency, Fulton County Hospital would activate appropriate response protocol. The scale and nature of the situation would dictate which internal protocol would be activated. If warranted, the hospital would request external resources and mobilize additional staff to support the response and recovery effort. As part of the larger response effort, the hospital would typically take direction from the county OEM," Philip Hughes, chief information officer of Fulton County Hospital said.
Though the thought of any kind of harm coming to a student at school is horrifying for parents, they can breath easier knowing that schools are aware of the dangers students face today and that schools have put in place proper measures to make sure their child is safe.