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NNCS criminal justice students perform safety audit at school

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NORFOLK - Two Norwood-Norfolk Central School students who performed a safety audit of the district following January’s lockdown say their research showed mixed results in the event of emergencies.

Kyle Martens and Chris Prashaw attend the Criminal Justice program offered by the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services. They, along with course instructor Kenneth J. “Juddy” Plumb, shared their findings with the district’s board of education Tuesday night.

Mr. Plumb, a retired state police officer, had previously been assigned as the district’s school resource officer prior to his retirement.

He said the class, consisting of six groups, conducted the safety audit of different areas in the school as part of an assignment in his class. They provided board members with a hard copy of their safety audit results.

“They went through the building to see what needed to be fixed. I’m happy to report that they found a lot more good than things that need to be fixed,” Mr. Plumb said.

He noted that district officials didn’t need to necessarily act immediately on recommendations in the front of the audit report.

“Just because it says no doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, oh, we have to fix this.’ It doesn’t mean it’s a big red flag and needs to be fixed yesterday.”

Mr. Martens said the report points out areas where the district’s plans were “really good” as well as “little concerns we had.”

He said they had talked with teachers following the January lockdown and teachers had shared some of their concerns.

“One of my concerns was busing. The buses were still en route,” Mr. Martens said, noting that previously students had been taken to off-campus sites such as the Dominic Zappia Arena in Norfolk in the event of an emergency.

“That was one of their big concerns,” he said.

Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said that state police had taken control of the scene and had determined that buses could continue coming to school.

“The troopers had already secured the grounds when the buses arrived. They knew there was no additional threat,” she said, noting that students were safely escorted from the buses when they arrived at the school.

“The students were safe at all times,” she said.

“They were held on the buses until the state troopers determined there were no additional threats,” school board President Jon Hazen noted.

Mr. Prashaw said one of the areas of concerns he heard was the use of identification badges for visitors and “having control at the time they come in. Visitor policies were our biggest concern at the time of the audit,” he said.

But, Mr. Prashaw noted, staff reacted well to their presence in the school as they checked doors around the building during the audit to ensure they were locked.

“The teachers didn’t know we were doing an audit on the Thursday we did it. The office got many calls because people are walking around checking all the doors,” he said.

The reaction by administrators and staff during the January lockdown was exceptional, according to Mr. Martens. Senior class advisors Jill Weaver and Christine LaFleur were holding a senior class meeting in the auditorium at the time of the incident, and they moved the students to a safe location and kept them quiet, and also had doors closed within 45 seconds, he said.

“Mrs. Weaver and Mrs. LaFleur handled that with amazing results,” Mr. Martens said.

Mr. Plumb said 12 teachers and administrators had been interviewed about emergency operations procedures and how comfortable they were with the lockdown.

“What was alarming,” he said, “was the staff didn’t feel like they were prepared.”

He said schools regularly conduct fire drills, but don’t focus as much as the possibility of school violence.

“Our big equation was drills. We thought drills was the number one problem,” Mr. Plumb said.

He pointed out that during the April 20, 1999 Columbine school shooting, the school’s librarian had been prepared for fire, but not shooting. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher. They injured 21 additional students.

Mr. Plumb suggested all schools needed to start thinking about conducting lockdown drills on a more regular basis.

“Unfortunately we’re not prepared for that,” he said. “The biggest thing is we’re just denying it’s not going to happen. I would say you drill until you’re comfortable with it.”

He suggested districts do four or five lockdown drills in the first couple of years to become accustomed to the procedures.

“If you do it correctly it’s not going to take any more time than a fire drill,” he said.

Mr. Plumb said schools also needed to examine their dress codes, particularly “gang pangs and hoodies, things that a lot of kids are seen to be wearing” and can be used to conceal weapons. He said gang pants were used “to conceal and to steal.”

He also blamed the media for giving notoriety to shooters, whom he said aren’t looking for confrontation, but rather a large body count that will be splashed in the headlines. He suggested that, once the incident was offer, media outlets just indicate that the killer was dead without identifying the person or posting a photo of the individual.

Mr. Plumb said that while New York State Police no longer provide school resource officers as they did during his time there were other ways to get an SRO into districts. He suggested that districts could look at retired law enforcement officers to perform that function.

“The troopers are paying $100,000 a year plus $75,000 in benefits. You can have an SRO in the building for the price of an aide. They would have to give them police powers from somewhere,” he said, adding that districts would also need to examine their liability of something happened.

“I do believe if we had an SRO a lot of the students would feel safer,” Mr. Martens said.

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