Danville takes a stand on safety

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Danville Independent Schools passed a resolution stating its commitment to the safety and well-being of all students in the district Monday night.

“As a board, we felt like we wanted to make a statement and a commitment to our students, our staff and our community. This is something that is very important to us,” said board Chair Paige Matthews.

The conversation regarding the resolution began last week at the board’s working session when Superintendent Keith Look brought the idea, along with a draft resolution.

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“As this becomes an on-going conversation — because in the Danville Schools, safety is not a one-time conversation … I would like for the board to consider at the March board meeting to make a non-binding resolution in relation to school safety,” he said last week. 

Matthews read from the resolution Monday: “As a caring and compassionate learning community dedicated to educational, emotional and social development, the Board of Education affirms its commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all students in the Danville Independent Schools district.

“The mentoring provided by talented teachers, coaches and other school staff, as well as the important work of counselors, nurses, school resource officers and the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, offers Danville students a range of allies and advocates to support positive outcomes.

“With a strong sense of obligation to each and every Danville student, the Board pledges not just to maintain but also expand this support when and where possible, both within and beyond typical school structures.”

Matthews said the commitment would be “ongoing,” and school safety would be a “continuing, ongoing discussion.”

Look said it was important to note the work of nurses, those in the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, coaches, the district’s School Resource Officer and a variety of others outside of the classroom.

“It is amazing what a student will tell someone with a lab coat and a stethoscope. It is amazing what a student will tell a youth services center coordinator, who does not hold the ability to grade them over their head. It is amazing what a student will tell an individual with a uniform and a badge that’s designed for school safety,” Look said. “These services, that are not part of a typical school structure, are what greatly enhances the opportunities for safety in the school.”

Look, who ran a school in Pennsylvania that was rated one of the most dangerous in the state, said they were able to get that school off of that list, not because of the law enforcement or security protocols in the school, but because of the relationships they were able to establish between kids and the adults they could talk to.

He called the resolution an “important opportunity” for the district.

“I agree … It’s hard to not tell my kids about the school shootings. The bigger kids, I understand, but the little ones,” said board member Lori Finke.

She said it was important to not make school “a scary place” for kids who are struggling to understand.

Look said he understood that, “It’s not easy … Even as adults, learning to process this is important.”

Board members agreed that it’s those relationships that make a difference for students.

They sent edits of the resolution to Look, so that it could be prepared by Monday’s board meeting.

Board member Susan Matherly said, she agreed that the relationships were important, but she wanted to encourage the district to look at the program offered by the Kentucky State Police to review each of the schools for vulnerabilities.

The conversation on safety was part of a larger discussion on the steps the district has been taking, Look said.

“This has not been something with the Danville Schools that has been a knee-jerk reaction,” he said, during the March 12 working session.

Look said the district had been making “concerted efforts” for safety at the schools as they were undergoing the redesigns. He pointed to the vestibules that have been installed at Hogsett and the Danville High School, to better control the entrances, along with other changes at other schools.

“At every school, we have made significant modifications to help promote safety as regards to access at our schools,” he said.

He talked about security cameras that had been upgraded in the district and how the buildings had been rekeyed, gaining greater control of who has keys to which buildings.

“We’ve been cleaning that up … if a disgruntled employee is let go, their key access can be deleted whether or not they turn their key in,” Look said. “Those things are important to consider in regards to safety.”

Look shared how schools were once resistant to the ideas of having a School Resource Officer.

“They said, ‘We don’t want a cop in our building because it means our schools aren’t safe.’ We’ve come to a point, where we realize, ‘No, no. That’s not what SROs are for,’” Look said.

SROs, he said, are able to build a relationship with children and encourage greater safety.

Look said in the past, schools had also been resistant to the idea of active shooter drills. But, the time has come, he said, where that mentality needs to change.

“We’re now to the point of being able to say, ‘You know what, this could happen anywhere and being able to practice for this makes sense.’ In fact, things like this now make much more sense than fire drills,” Look said. “That isn’t to say we don’t still need to do fire drills, but there are other drills and other ways in which we need to protect kids that need to be part of our routine.”

Look explained that the district staff will be participating in active shooter drills provided by local law enforcement.

“It’s important to know, ‘What does a gun sound like if it goes off inside a school building? What is your emotional reaction? What is your visceral reaction? When facing that kind of pressure, how do you respond?’ It’s a lot of things we can hypothesize about,” Look said. “But being able to go through that simulation knowing that there’s a no-fault, no-risk opportunity there, is going to be critical for our staff.”

After students leave on May 25 and before the schools close on June 1, Look said they hope to have those drills for staff.

He said it’s possible to make schools locked up too tight.

“The messiest part about this is, we’re not being attacked by foreign powers. Unfortunately, we’ve raised our kids to be polite, good people. That means if the kid who they know from third period last year is knocking on the door and needs to be let in, the natural reaction 10 out of 10 times is to take care of the kid that sat next you in third period last year,” Look said. “Those aren’t safety issues that I want to fix … Ultimately, in education, we can turn (schools) into prisons and put large walls, barbed fence and a gate that screens every single person every day. But you’ll never start school on time and it will never feel like school again.”

He said there’s a balance of comfort for students and there will always be certain things that can’t be locked up 100 percent of the time.

Look said that law enforcement sees everyone as criminal or not.

“In schools, that’s not what exists. There’s a lot more shades of gray in there,” Look said. “We have to allow for kids to make mistakes.”

In other business

During Monday’s meeting, Matthews also commended the Danville High School’s approach to the National School Walkout on March 14.

At the event, which was delayed to about 1 p.m. because of a two-hour delay due to weather, the school’s Junior States of America chapter took the lead. Students gave speeches relating to unity and reminding those present of the lives that had been lost in recent school shootings in Florida and in Marshall County, Kentucky, during the 17-minute event. They even went as far as to have students come up to the front of the crowd to stand as a symbol of someone who died.

During last week’s working session, Look said he “could not be more pleased with the work the high school has done.”

“This is a critical, teachable moment for staff, students and families. Trying to teach students the power of their voice, to know how to exercise that voice, to know to exercise those rights and to know the limits of the freedoms that come with freedom of speech, are all critical lessons that are are often hard to learn,” he said.

In the weeks leading up to the walk out, the school had set about having a series of lunch and learns for students to participate in to learn more about a variety of topics.

“The goal is never to say that there is a right answer. The goal is to teach kids how to have the conversation, how to exercise their voice in a way that is respectful of others,” Look said.

On Monday night, Matthews said, “We appreciate them allowing them to handle things in the way they did. I think we got a lot of nice feedback and positive feedback from parents and students as to how that all went about.”

Also on Monday, Danville BOE approved a new calendar making May 25 the last day for students. Director of Pupil Personnel Ed McKinney said the district has missed six days since January, one for illness and the others due to inclement weather. 

The district will be in school Thursday and Friday this week (originally planned to be out), a change the board previously approved, will use one bank day (made up of hours cumulated over the year) and two days were made up in February — leaving them with one day to make up. 

May 25 was originally scheduled as a non-instructional day. It is also scheduled for the graduation ceremony. 

McKinney was asked what the district would do if there was another snow day.

“The only options, at this point, are to use April 27 or the very unpopular option of taking a day of spring break,” McKinney said.

Finke asked if there was any sign of legislation to ease the make up requirements.

“I’d say we’re getting close, but right now, there’s no legislation on the table,” McKinney said. For something to pass, it has to go before the general assembly, he said, and nothing has been brought up yet.