Arlington School District officials talked about recent efforts to improve student safety and security at the first of three public forums on Oct. 11.
They also listened to feedback from local community members and encourage those who have opinions about school safety to attend one of their remaining forums on Oct. 16 at Arlington High School at 6 p.m. or on Oct. 25 at Post Middle School at 6 p.m.
Officials talked about what they have done and what they are hoping to do.
Executive director of operations Brian Lewis talked about district employees changing the structure of buildings to make crime less likely to occur.
“It is an approach to help us deter criminals both inside and outside the building,” he said.
Surveillance is one of the ways to do this, he said, such as the recent cutting of low hanging branches from trees at Weston High School.
“Nobody has an opportunity to hide out in the foliage now,” he said.
For the past couple of years the district has also cleaned up a lot of it’s facilities ,which beyond the aesthetic improvements also helps reduce crime.
“If we show disregard for our facilities, let them look shabby, that shows we don’t care and invites criminal activity,” said Lewis.
The district has also installed call boxes this summer.
“They allow us to keep the front doors locked and when a person wants to get in the building, they push the button and speak through the microphone,” he said.
At one of the district’s elementary schools and one middle school the district is also piloting a new program from SafeVisitor Solutions, said Gary Sabol, Arlington School District’s director of communications.
The program prints visitor badges which expire after one day and also automatically runs a background check on visitors.
Sabol said other technology solutions, like School Messenger, help the district more quickly inform parents of situations that happen at school.
The SafeSchools Reporting Tip Line also provides students a way to provide anonymous tips of harassment or other problems.
Sabol said that students are encouraged to inform their teachers, principals or other staff, if they are comfortable with that, but if they are not the tip line provides another option.
“As soon as they submit this, Brian [Lewis] and myself get an alert and we receive these at all hours of the night and day,” said Sabol.
Assistant Superintendent Kathy Ehman said that the district was focused on the emotional well-being of the children as well.
“One of the things that is critical, especially in this day and age, is to really develop trust,” she said. “Students need to feel that it is a safe place for them emotionally."
The district has been training teachers on adverse childhood experiences, which are experiences that often cause emotional trauma and can interfere with someone’s behavioral development.
“Their brain chemistry and the development of the brain can be very different, so the standard traditional approaches need to be modified,” said Ehman.
For students of all ages more mental health support systems are needed, she said.
“Mental health services for children have been lacking and is one of the things over and over that teachers and administrators have been saying,” she said.
“Recently we’ve been working with Hospital District No. 3 and they have a mental health counselor come into two of our elementary schools,” said Ehman.
They are also working with Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital to provide more mental health services for high school students.
“Sometimes families don’t have access or the ability to get children that help,” said Ehman.
Arlington School District Superintendent Chrys Sweeting encourages local parents to provide their feedback about how to improve the safety and security of local schools.
“As you know, we have not arrived, so we need your feedback about our practices,” she said.