By Melanie Williamson
At the Monday, April 9, school board meeting superintendent Phil Pempin provided an update on the safety suggestions made by parents and communities members during the community safety forum. He shared that the district does have a crisis team, which has been in place for several years. Over the last few weeks, the crisis team has been going over the list of suggestions to see what options are they can pursue.
Pempin presented a list of what they consider small dollar changes and large dollar changes along with a list of the changes they plan to implement immediately and which changes will require additional planning. He shared that each of the schools has started making daily announcements reminding students not to open the doors of the school to let people in. All guests are required to enter through the main door and check in at the office. The schools have also increased monitoring at the entrances by having addition staff by the doors at the start and end of the day.
The district is investing in upgraded crisis bags and crisis binders that will be easier to carry and use by staff during the event of a crisis. They are stocking bottled water in the schools, which Pempin stated may seem like a small change, but a needed one. The district is also investing in what are called large trauma buckets for each hallway. A trauma bucket is stocked with emergency medical supplies that can be easily accessed and used in the event of an emergency.
Although listed as a large dollar item, Pempin shared that they are also moving forward in installing visitor check-in card readers at each building. When someone is visiting a school building for any reason, their driver’s license will be scanned by the reader and automatically checked against databases. This will either inform administration that the visitor should not be permitted in along with the reason why, or it will provide a timed visitor’s pass. These passes automatically turn white when they expire, so old passes cannot be reused to enter a school building. Pempin stated that they are still looking at their options for the card readers, but they range in price from $350 to $1000 each. They are also looking at upgrading the school entries with DVRs to provide better monitoring.
Pempin stated that one of the suggestions that was brought up and discussed repeatedly during the community forum was having more mental health professionals and services in the schools as part of a proactive approach to protecting the schools. He went on to explain that they are currently re-evaluating the counselors they currently have in the schools to see how their time can be utilized more effectively and to identify the gaps that need to be filled.
Assistant superintendent Jim Balotta shared that they want to see that the counselors are able to spend more time in the classrooms with the students and less time on other tasks. He went on to say that once they have a better idea of how they can more effectively use their current staff, they will look at adding social workers/mental health professionals to ensure that all student needs are being met. He also shared that they are adding professional development opportunities for staff with the first one being in early June to focus on social/emotional learning for students. Balotta asserted that this type of learning will help students know how to deal with meanness or criticism in a healthy way.
Of the large dollar items, Pempin shared they are looking into upgrading the surveillance cameras throughout Sailroway Middle School and Vermilion High School. They are also looking into adding an additional student resource officer (SRO). The district currently has one SRO, who oversees all three school buildings. If the district is able to add a second SRO, then one can be at the high school full-time while the other moves between the elementary school and the middle school. Pempin is currently in conversations with local law enforcement agencies including the Vermilion Police Department to see what it would cost the school to hire a second SRO. Pempin also reiterated that once they are done re-evaluating current staff duties, they will also look into the cost of hiring mental health professionals to be in the schools.
In regards to the large cost items, Pempin stated that if they plan to add staff including a SRO and mental health professionals, they will need to look at a safety levy. He reminded those in attendance that the state passed legislation a couple years ago allowing districts to pursue levies strictly for safety and security upgrades and expenses. He added that they still have research to do before they will be ready to present that to the board. Board member Shelly Innes stated that they will need to make a decision by the first meeting of August if they plan to put a levy on the November ballot.
The final recommendation that Pempin discussed was the ongoing need for information by parents. At the community forum, parents and community members filled out a survey of topics they would like to know more about. The district is planning their first Parent University for Saturday, April 21, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. This event will be for parents only, but student volunteers will be on site to entertain younger students making it more accessible to parents. The district is bringing in a national speaker for this event, and the topics to be covered include online risks, current online trends, and what parents can do to protect their children while online. This event will be free and open to the public.