In the past few weeks there have been disturbing reports about violence in our nation’s schools — specifically the murder/suicides in Colorado and in the Amish school. We have had our own share of recent incidents here as well. You may be asking the questions: How safe are we and what measures have we taken as a community to prevent violence in our schools? I would like to reassure you that we do have strategies in place with many people in our community working together to ensure the safety of our young people and our staff. Here are some examples:
Friends taking care of Friends. We remind our students to let teachers or another adult know if they have concerns about friends being at risk of violence to themselves or others. In every incident of a school shooting involving a student, other students knew that the student had a weapon or about the student’s plan. In many cases, the shooter subsequently committed suicide. When students think about taking care of their friends, they are more likely to tell a trusted adult about the pending danger if they know that they are actually helping their friend.
At-Risk of Violence Assessments. If you believe that a student is at risk of violence, please let your school principal know. Being at-risk of violence means that the student has threatened to kill someone using a weapon or dangerous instrument; exhibited an an unusual interest in weapons or dangerous instruments; exhibited violent behavior on or off school grounds; or threatened violent behavior on or off school grounds. Violent behavior r means physical violence against other human beings that inflicts serious injury or death. When a principal learns that a student may be at risk of violence to himself/herself or others, the principal lets me know. I discuss the student’s behaviors with the principal and if I believe other students or staff members are in danger, I emergency expel the student, removing him/her from school until an at-risk of violence assessment can be conducted by a district-approved forensically-trained psychologist or psychiatrist. Following that assessment, I determine whether or not it is safe for the student to return to school. A student bringing a gun to school will be arrested and automatically expelled for one school year.
Procedures in case of an intruder, including lockdown drills, are practiced regularly at each school. Island Park experienced a lockdown recently when an adult suicide occurred in the school neighborhood. The staff and students did a beautiful job of following the lockdown procedures. I will be following up with our staff to make sure we all know and understand these procedures.
Mercer Island Police Department. The MIPD works closely with the School District to ensure the safety of our students and staff. They conduct practice lockdowns with our schools and simulate “active intruders” training our schools during school vacation breaks. Whether it’s a student or an adult with a gun or other weapon at school, or a suicide incident, the MIPD trains and practices regularly to ensure that individual students and staff as well as our school campuses are safe.
Communities that Care. Mercer Island Youth and Family Services is coordinating the Communities that Care effort. This group of interested community members is researching ways to help all students feel more connected to their school and community resulting in less drug or alcohol use, bullying, disenfranchisement, and/or violence.
Youth Concerns Committee. This group is co-chaired by me as district Superintendent, Ed Holmes, Chief of Police for the City of Mercer Island, and Cindy Goodwin, Director of Mercer Island youth and Family Services. We meet every other month with representatives from these groups to discuss the needs of our young people from the perspective of social and personal safety. One of the topics addressed by this month’s Youth Concerns Committee was school shootings and what the Mercer Island Police Department and School District do together to ensure safe campuses. Officer Dave Jokinen distributed information about school safety reviews and Sergeant Dennis Wheeler described the trainings that the MIPD conducts to prepare for worst case incidents in our schools. I continue to appreciate all that our police officers do to keep our students and staff safe at school.
Sometimes it feels like we should build a wall around each of our schools to prevent random access to the campus. Do we need to do that? I do not believe so. But we do need to stay vigilant and work together to ensure not only the safety, but the well being of our young people and staff. Thank you for doing your part! I am committed to ensuring a safe place for our students to learn and our staff to teach. If yo have questions, concerns, or other ideas, please call me at 236-3300 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Cyndy Simms, Superintendent