#schoolsafety | Yolo County Grand Jury provides recommendations on how to improve school safety – Daily Democrat

Few issues command attention like school safety.

As threats change and evolve in real-time — like the threat of the coronavirus pandemic — the preparation and response must also adapt.

Back in 2016-2017, the Yolo County Grand Jury investigated the Comprehensive School Safety Plan’s compliance and found vulnerabilities that prompted changes in the school districts in Yolo County to make campus access more restricted and secure.

The Grand Jury found that all school districts in Yolo County are currently in compliance with the requirements for preparing and filing CSSP’s. Yolo County school districts have made the safety improvements recommended in the past three years to “harden” their campuses.

These initiatives include increased visitor signage, check-in procedures and collaboration with first responders to secure each school further. These measures also raise the prominence of the front offices’ role in creating additional responsibilities for those staff members.

According to the grant jury report, schools must be prepared for any crisis, from accidents and broken bones to power outages and wildfires – as well as the resulting trauma.

Although the Woodland School District has not had to deal with any fallout from wildfires or other crises, they recently encountered an internet outage that affected most of Woodland District schools.

Holding students harmless to attendance is on the district’s internet outage protocol. Attendance will be marked as code “6” by the district office for all students with a noted “Districtwide outage.”

The protocol also states district schools will remain open to the public during regular school office hours, and regular workday will continue for all staff. Site administrators will determine any changes in the work location.

While in distance learning, asynchronous instruction will continue for students who cannot participate in synchronous instruction. Staff who cannot access the internet, either from home and school site, will assign asynchronous instruction.

Despite research reporting that school shootings are rare, they still demand attention and scrutiny. Safety drills and protocols intended to prepare students and staff to respond to various threats can also, according to witness interviews, have the adverse effect of heightening fear and anxiety, the grand jury report indicates.

In March, the District began its second year of active shooter training known as “ALICE.”

ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate and is options based program aimed at responding to violent situations. The program is non-sequential, meaning there is no direct need to go in order, so choosing the best survival options will not always be the same thing.

There are no simulations of active shooters with ALICE, erasing educators’ concerns over the harm active shooter drills can pose on students’ mental health.

The 2019-2020 Grand Jury sought to understand school safety from the perspective of those developing, training in, and carrying out safety protocols.

Interviews with personnel from each school district and the Yolo County Office of Education and a review of school safety documents suggest that while improvements were made during the past three years, three areas still warrant attention.

The grand jury found that improvements needed to be made in anticipating change and preparing for ongoing improvement of Comprehensive School Safety Plans, voids in safety training and its measures of effectiveness, and increasing additional support for trauma-impacted students and staff.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a shift to focus on the students’ social and emotional needs has been a huge talking point during recent Woodland School Board meetings between trustees and district employees.

The YCOE recently initiated efforts to standardize the CSSPs for all school districts within Yolo County. All schools within the county comply with California Education Code mandates, while districts will have the flexibility to develop their own plans.

Some school safety plans have very detailed protocols that “go beyond” the mandates and address many of the areas in need of more attention.

To avoid disclosing sensitive information, the details and tactics developed for the districts and their sites are restricted to school and first-responder personnel as an additional safety measure.

The grand jury recommends prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year that district officials should identify additional approaches in their school safety plans for hardening access to areas of schools that remain vulnerable.

Most school districts prioritize certified personnel training in safety protocols and procedures but not classified employees such as para-educators and yard duty aides.

This year, some districts, such as the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento, have started to train their classified staff in emergency and safety procedures.

However, teachers hired after the start of the school year typically miss these early opportunities, creating a potential vacuum in preparedness. If substitutes are not at the training, their ability to respond to emergency situations is also compromised.

The grand jury recommends that prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year, and each subsequent school year, district officials should identify administrative, certificated, and classified employees to engage in train-the-trainer classes to build internal capacity and share resources across districts.

They also recommend that district officials require online, on-demand safety training modules be provided and completed by all staff, particularly those hired after the start of the school year, to ensure consistency in and breadth of safety protocols and procedures.

Substitute teachers must complete any training before reporting to work in any district. A method for measuring the effectiveness of safety training, including an annual survey for all staff, should be implemented.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-33-20, a statewide stay at home order, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The recommendations from the grand jury were generated before the shutdown and ensuing shelter in place and social distancing orders.

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