December 28, 2012
Dear Federal Hocking Families,
I hope you are all enjoying the Christmas break with family and friends.
Given the recent tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, I thought it might be helpful to share with you my observations and activities related to school safety. I have been meeting with staff, parents, students, and local authorities to review our approach to school safety. Additionally, I have toured all of our facilities and tested security/safety procedures.
I want you to know that while we can always do better, our schools are prepared for crisis situations. You should also know that while we work to keep children safe, we also want our schools to maintain their warm and welcoming character. Preserving that feel, offering the best educational opportunities we can, and keeping kids safe and healthy are our primary goals.
With this letter I have included a “Question and Answer” sheet related to school safety procedures. These questions reflect the items most often raised by parents with me in recent conversations. In addition, we hope you remember three things:
- According to the U. S. Department of Justice, the safest place for children to be in America is in their local school. Children are less likely to be harmed or injured while in school than in any other place.
- Even though our schools are safe, we still prepare for the unlikely event of an emergency, including running drills with students.
- The most important thing we can do in terms of school safety is to attend to the mental health and well being of our students. Supporting them through the sometimes rocky road of growing up means we fill our neighborhoods with healthy, caring adults that create healthy and safe communities.
Finally, as a father of two children who attended Federal Hocking, I want you to know that I fully understand the responsibility our school district has to keep your children safe. I promise you I will do all I can to ensure the safety of children in our schools and am always happy to hear your suggestions and ideas on this, our main priority.
All the best,
Superintendent and Secondary School Principal
School Safety Questions & Answers
The following questions and answers are designed to address the most frequently raised questions about school safety in the Federal Hocking Local School District. If you would like additional information, please feel free to contact your building principal or superintendent.
Are my children safe at school?
Yes. According to U.S. Department of Justice research, the safest place for your child to be is in school. While in school, children are less likely to suffer an injury, be assaulted, or otherwise be at risk than in any other location.
Are small schools safer than large schools?
Yes – and that is good news because our community has elected to keep all three of our small schools open. Small schools are safer because staff members know all of the students and are familiar with all of the families. We know our children and their needs; and we know who should or should not be in the school. Our principals are out in front of school both before and after school greeting children and families by name – the hallmark of safe, small schools.
But bad things do happen at schools. Are we prepared?
Yes. We have plans in place at all of our schools for a range of emergencies including but not limited to fires, tornados, and intruders. We practice with our students what to do in these situations and review and share our plans with local fire and law enforcement agencies.
What do we do to prevent emergencies?
Prevention is the most important item on our agenda. First, we regularly inspect our buildings for any potential fire or safety hazard.
More importantly, we work hard to make our schools secure places for children to learn and develop in healthy and secure ways. These efforts include:
- Anti-bullying and harassment programs so that all students feel safe at school;
- Guidance counseling services so that students who need help with social and emotional problems can get that support in a timely fashion;
- Our Advisory system at the secondary schools which enables teachers to build long-term relationships with a small group of students, keeping an eye on both their academic progress and social/emotional development.
By knowing our students well and identifying and supporting students that are struggling, we prevent problems before they occur.
What ways are you planning to expand preventative measures?
We know that the best way to prevent school crises is through caring for our students. In addition to the current ways in which we do this, we are looking at expanding ways in which we connect with children. These include:
- Adding another guidance counselor at the elementary level so we have full-time guidance staff at all buildings.
- Moving to “looping” in the elementary and middle schools so students have the same teacher/advisor for multiple years.
- Putting in place building-wide social/emotional development programs at our elementary schools.
What will we do, if anything, to improve security issues?
We are working to find the funding to make several security improvements, including but not limited to:
- Repair and replace several exterior doors at the elementary schools;
- Re-key all our buildings;
- Add additional, unobtrusive surveillance cameras.
Will we have buzzers/locks at the school entrances?
We are examining this issue, and some parents have expressed a strong desire for such a system, while others are just as strongly opposed to it. Regardless of what we decide, we are addressing how we monitor our entrances.
Can parents see the school safety plan?
No. For security reasons we do not share what we put in our plans with folks outside the school. We do share them with fire and law enforcement agencies.
When emergencies happen, why aren’t parents notified immediately?
As part of our plans, and at the request and recommendation of law enforcement agencies, we notify parents of emergencies when we have moved into the “all clear” phase of our work. The main reason for this is to keep the school area from being over-run by parents and outsiders. While school and emergency personnel are dealing with keeping children safe, they do not have time to attend to parents. Parents and others who want to be of help can actually create problems. (For example, during the bomb hoax at the secondary school in December, vehicles driven by parents created a traffic blockage in front of the school, preventing emergency vehicles and the buses we were bringing in to shelter students from entering school grounds.) We will send out an all-call when it is the best time to notify parents as directed by local first responders.
But we do know you need information as soon as we have it, so read on for a new policy we will be instituting when students return to school in January.
How will I know what is going on or if there is a real emergency at school?
As of the first of this year we will be instituting a new way of notifying you in the case of a real emergency at school. Once we have secured the building and have identified what the issue is, we will post on the district website (www.fedhock.com
) what is occurring at the building. We will continue to update this news post as it is practical and as we have new information. Once the situation is over, we will use our Facebook page, the phone calling system, and the web site to notify you of the status of the school. So, if you hear a rumor of an incident at a school, such as a bomb threat, fire or other emergency, please go to our web site and there you will find the most up-to-date, official information.
What should I do if I see an emergency situation posted on the web site?
And as hard as it may be, the best thing to do during such a situation is stay at work or home and wait for our call. If you call the school you will make it harder for us to call out for assistance—and when we evacuate the building no one will be here to get your call.
Why don’t we send kids home during an emergency?
While I know some of you may have been frustrated due to not being able to pick up your children during the bomb hoax at the high school in December, we operate in this way to keep children safe. There are two reasons for this:
- First, in order to keep children safe we move them to a safe location, take attendance, keep them with their teachers, and frequently check attendance and make sure we know where every child is. If any children come up unaccounted for during the emergency we immediately turn our attention to finding that child, diverting resources from dealing with the emergency situation we are confronting. To send them home in the middle of this activity would create chaos in how we keep track of kids.
- Second, in the case of things like the bomb hoax, we go back to school. Once local authorities declare the school safe, we know it is important to get kids back to the normal routine of school. To do otherwise would only encourage pranksters to be calling in fake emergencies.
Who can pick up my child in case of an emergency?
At all times the only person(s) allowed to pick up a child are the child’s parents/guardian and those persons you have listed on your child’s emergency medical form. We do this for your child’s safety. We do not accept incoming calls saying to release a child to someone. We will call out to you, if time allows, to check on a pick up – but only to your number on the emergency medical form.
Anything else I should know?
Yes, during any school emergency please remember that the school staff’s focus is on your children. We may not be able to get to you as quickly as you might like, but please understand that our first focus is the children and keeping them safe.