Edmond Public Schools and the Edmond Police Department have had three active shooter drills during the last five years, part of the district’s broader strategy aimed at keeping students safe.
Issues educators and other public officials face are daunting when it comes to school safety and security. Earlier this week, a 22-member Commission on School Security, initiated by Gov. Mary Fallin and chaired by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, delivered recommendations to the Legislature for consideration.
Their final report included the following information:
• According to the 2011 Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey among high schools 3 percent of students did not go to school recently because they felt they would be unsafe at school or on their way to or from school; 6 percent had been threatened or injured with a weapon such as a gun, knife or club on school property; and 17 percent were bullied on school property.
• According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health one in five young people have one or more mental, emotional and behavioral disorders at any given time; half of all mental illnesses occur by age 14 and three-fourths by age 24; and 40 percent of youth who need mental health services and 80 percent who need substance abuse treatment don’t receive it.
• Furthermore, 7.5 percent of Oklahoma high school students have brought a weapon to school in the past month.
Below are recommendations made by commission members to lawmakers and how Edmond Public Schools already addresses many of the items:
• Create an Oklahoma School Security Institute that would operate under the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security and be a center of best practices and resources;
• Establish a pilot mental health first aid training program, which should be voluntary and incorporate the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and school district superintendents;
• Amend and change state law to require school intruder safety drills along with fire and tornado drills. Edmond Public Schools’ safety coordinator Jim Rothrock said the district conducts two fire drills, one intruder dill and one weather drill per semester, a minimum of eight annually. There’s also the active shooter drills mentioned by EPS spokeswoman Susan Parks-Schlepp.
• Require the reporting of firearms to local law enforcement. Parks-Schlepp said on the rare occasion a firearm is found at a school, the person who discovers it reports it to their site administrator who then fills out a Gun-Free School Act of 1994 weapon report. The reports are compiled and sent to the State Department of Education annually. Pursuant to Section 1271.1 of Title 21 of state law, every school authority shall immediately deliver any weapon or firearm, removed or otherwise seized from any minor, to a law enforcement authority for disposition.
• Establish a school security tip line for parents, teachers, students and administrators that is available to call in suspicious activity. A tip line maintained by the State Department of Education was discontinued due to cost and lack of use. Re-establishing a statewide tipline seems feasible, Rothrock said. However, the city already has a tipline through the Edmond Police Department, he pointed out.
Lamb said he is encouraged by the support for the recommendations from the governor and leaders from both parties in the Legislature. Plans call for them to be added into shell bills passed by the Senate, Lamb said.
Parks-Schlepp said Edmond Public Schools thanks the commission members for their hard work. Local administrators will wait and see how the Legislature acts on the commission’s recommendations, she said.
Safety and security of students is a top priority for EPS, Parks-Schlepp said.
“The district not only has a strategic plan for security but the board of education regularly sets annual goals that are often related to enhancing security in our schools,” Parks-Schlepp said.
Rothrock said EPS reviews safety and security measures at a minimum annually. However, anytime an issue arises such as weather, a lockdown, student unrest or staffing changes the district reviews best practices, he said.
Following a December mass shooting tragedy at an elementary school in Connecticut, the Police Department increased officer presence at all local school sites. Other measures in place to protect students include perimeter fencing, a visitor management system, digital surveillance cameras and school personnel trained in safety procedures and crisis management.
Parks-Schlepp said EPS budgets $215,000 annually for security. Dedicated bond issues and residual bond funds are also used to maintain and upgrade security, she said.
More than $300,000 worth of residual bond funds, approved by the school board on March 4, will be used to enhance entrances at Ida Freeman and Russell Dougherty elementary schools and Central and Sequoyah middle schools.
Noticeable changes will include electronic control doors, electronic swipes, push button entrances and in some cases entirely new front offices.
The Feb. 12 bond issue, approved by voters, includes $300,000 for the installation and upgrade of video surveillance camera systems at all three Edmond high schools and Boulevard Academy.
Recently, the Police Department, the schools and the city produced a video designed to help parents understand the variety of ways security has been enhanced.
EPD spokeswoman Jenny Monroe said a school resource officer, part of a pre-existing program, is permanently staffed at each of the three high schools. Two others rotate among middle school sites.
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