Clinton schools working to keep students safe

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Visitors to Clinton Elementary School must first stop in the office to sign in and get a visitor badge. The secretary now must let visitors in through the entrance to the building by unlocking the door. A surveillance camera lets her know who is asking to enter the building. Photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

Student safety has always been a priority for schools, but since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, school districts have been educating themselves on stronger safety measures. Training and evaluation of school safety is regularly done with the Lenawee Intermediate School District. The Lenawee County Emergency Manager helps LISD members evaluate and address areas of safety and make changes when needed.

“We all have the same procedures that way, and the responders know that,” said Britton Deerfield Superintendent Chuck Pelham.

This uniformity of training and response has been a benefit to Britton Deerfield and Clinton Community Schools. “I’ve been heavily involved in this process for five years now,” said Clinton Community Schools Superintendent David P. Pray said. “It’s something you have to keep up on.”

A priority is to identify anyone inside the school buildings who don’t belong there. Not far behind in importance is practicing accurate response in emergency situations.

Both Pelham and Pray praise the dedication of teachers and staff in being aware of people coming and going in the buildings. Staff is trained to notice any stranger in the building and keep him or her from traveling throughout the building.

Pray routinely brings unknown law enforcement into the district building to observe how far they can get into the building before being stopped by staff. He remembers when safety awareness first started being emphasized in the district, his decoy people were able to make it almost all the way through the buildings before being stopped. In the last test done by Pray the person was stopped by the second staff member he passed and then immediately directed by the teacher to an office.

Pelham has noticed similar changes in the buildings in Britton and Deerfield. He regularly brings in deputies to go through the BD buildings at random times.
Staff knowledge and awareness achieved through training is the key to effective school safety. Pray noted that intervention with strangers in the building is not meant to be confrontational. Staff has been trained the proper response is to ask if the person needs assistance and to redirect them away from students.

Pray considers school offices and the secretaries the first line of defense in the three Clinton buildings. “All of our buildings have only one entry open during the day,” he said.

Britton Deerfield Schools also have only one unlocked entrance, according to Pelham. “We have cameras outside all our entrance doors,” he said.

Visitors are required to enter the school offices in both school districts, sign in, and get a visitor badge before continuing through the school. Surveillance cameras are located throughout the elementary, middle and high school buildings. Not only are the secretaries able to see who wishes to enter the building but they can also monitor other areas around the building.

Lockdown drills are also an important way to prepare students and teachers. Locked classroom doors are an important safety measure in both districts.
“We do a sweep of both our buildings every morning to make sure all the doors are locked,” said Pelham.

“Our teachers have to have their doors locked all the time,” Pray said. “They don’t necessarily have to have the doors closed, but they have them locked.”
Also part of the drill is covering up any glass so an intruder can’t see in the classroom. Teachers have been taught to pile desks in front of the door to keep it from opening.

If all the students are in the classroom when the drill begins, the teacher puts a green card in the outside window and slides another green card under the door. A student in the bathroom or outside the classroom at the time of a lockdown is instructed to enter the nearest classroom. If a classroom has missing students a red card is placed in the window with a second card slid under the door. The red card signifies missing or injured students.

“Clinton Police are involved in every one of our lockdowns,” said Pray. “I can’t give enough praise about our police and village officials.”

Classrooms are entered with a key and the room is scanned to find the students and teacher. “There were a couple times we couldn’t find the class,” Pray said.
Part of safety includes plans for evacuations and reunification of students with families. Detailed plans as well as blueprints are located in every school building as well as in each Superintendent’s office.

Student and community awareness of safety threats in the district are important and encouraged in both school districts. Both use the Safe Schools program as a monitoring device. Any student or parent can give an anonymous tip through text, email, website, or phone if they observe suspicious behavior.

Students are encouraged to talk to someone if they are concerned or witness dangerous behavior or hear threats. Students now understand it’s important and helpful to share what they hear and see. The program also has helped identify bullying behavior.

“Kids are now willing to be upstanders instead of bystanders,” said Pray.
Pelham is delighted that the young elementary students in Britton and Deerfield understand they should never let anyone into the building, even their own Superintendent. “They’ve been told not to open the door,” he said. “They won’t do it and I’m so proud of them.”

Although they are pleased with the preparedness of their districts, both acknowledged training and adaptation must be ongoing.

“Let’s find out what we’re doing good and what we’re not doing good and address that,” Pray said. “It takes everybody working together.”

“The community should realize we do take this very seriously and our students know we take this seriously,” said Pelham.




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