On Thursday, Jan. 10, a day that saw yet another shooter at a public school — this time in California, Mercer Island School Superintendent Gary Plano turned first to the topic of safety at the School Board meeting that same evening.
Along with Plano, Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes and Police Commander Dave Jokinen discussed how Island police, along with school administrators, are continuously looking for ways to improve school security here.
Holmes said that he felt that the relationship between the schools and police is extraordinary and an important element of school safety.
Yet, there is still more that needs to be done.
“The tragedy in Newtown underscores our need to demonstrate that safety is our priority,” Plano said.
Despite the many measures that are already in place at the schools, Plano has asked for a formal audit to be performed. A school safety expert will conduct the audit.
Holmes agreed with the need for an audit.
“Since Connecticut, there is more work to do to increase security on campus,” he said.
Some of the measures underway now include making sure that maps of school layouts are available to police in the event of an emergency and installing more sophisticated locking mechanisms on all school entrances.
Holmes, a father of two who trained as a teacher before becoming a police officer in 1994, said that school safety is at the top of his list.
Many Island police officers, including the chief, have been school resource officers. He noted that his staff trains constantly for any type of situation, including “active shooter” incidents. The training for those situations began in earnest across the country after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Police train in schools when they are vacant. They practice for lock downs — that are called for if reports of a shooter or possible gunfire is reported within the vicinity of the school, he explained. Such an incident happened on Jan. 11. (See page 7 for the report.)
Jokinen, also a former school resource officer, said the department’s existing safety plan includes the private schools as well. Along with tactical training, schools and the police are continually working on how they assess threats, he said.
School facilities survey underway
The meeting was supposed to include a discussion about the results of a survey that was to begin on Jan. 6. The telephone poll of the community regarding school facilities was not ready for analysis, however, due to a low response rate on the first evening. It was begun at the same time that the Seahawks football playoff game against the Redskins in Washington, D.C., was on television.
Plano said the results will be ready at the end of this month.
Schedule changes to add instruction time
Plano also discussed the work underway to increase the number of instructional minutes in the school day to meet the new guidelines set by the state superintendent.
The first change proposed is to add a few minutes by changing start times by five minutes at elementary schools.
The change will be phased in. Administrators are studying the best ways to find time.
The district is expected to easily meet and surpass the new time standards, which call for increasing student instruction time by 80 hours over the school year.