Allegheny Valley School District lays out safety plan

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:52 a.m.

Allegheny Valley School District officials laid out their plans to keep students safe at school during a parent information session on Thursday.

During the afternoon and evening presentations, administrators explained the district's Emergency Management Plan to parents.

About 30 parents attended the two sessions.

Led by Jan Zastawniak, district spokeswoman, and Greg Heavner, the elementary supervisor, the meeting detailed what steps Allegheny Valley has taken to ensure calm responses to emergencies, as well as what the district plans to work on in the future.

Three were several references to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Zastawniak said that after the shootings, Allegheny Valley reviewed its safety policies.

Last week, administrators and teachers spoke to the students about what to do in the event of a lockdown in the school.

“We had some straightforward talking,” Heavner said. “It could be scary, but the students were very, very good at understanding why we need to do it. I was very satisfied and happy that our students knew what I was talking about.”

The district also reviewed safety procedures, and had a retired police officer who works with the Allegheny County Intermediate Unit review the layout of the elementary schools.

There are some new policies in place for visitors in light of the attacks, which will be detailed in a letter sent home to parents.

Visitors will need to be buzzed into a safety vestibule in the school where they will explain to a secretary the reason for their visit.

If the secretary can confirm the visitor's reason for entering the school they will be buzzed into the school. Visitors will then have to show photo identification to the secretary.

Allegheny Valley is also looking into identification systems, which would alert secretaries if there is any reason a visitor should not be in the school.

Since Sandy Hook, the district has worked to ensure that all of the doors in the school lock and that teachers know the safety procedures.

Some parents don't think the district has gone far enough.

“With all these procedures in place, do you have anything you would have done that would have prevented or slowed somebody like a Sandy Hook attacker?” asked parent Brad Yaksich.

Several suggested that the school should place armed guards in the schools, or train and arm teachers.

Superintendent Cheryl Griffith said that the district is still considering many options for protecting students from an attack like the one at Sandy Hook.

“We're here to educate students,” she said. “But staff and student safety has to be our number one priority. We want to make a thoughtful, well-informed decision. The door is not closed on that thought; its part of the research.”

Heavner added that other options, such as bullet-proof glass and surveillance systems, are being investigated.

This year, the district is focusing on building procedures that focus on safety.

Hand-held radios will be given to one teacher per grade level in the elementary buildings and one teacher per wing or area in the high school. The district hopes that this will enable teachers to communicate quickly during an emergency.

Also this winter, the district is planning a drill exercise at the Junior-Senior High School with local EMS and county and state agencies. This is a part of the district's annual drill program.

Schools regularly hold fire, evacuation, weather, lockdowns and bus evacuation drills.

A priority for the district after a safety review by the state police is to add signs to the buildings to better direct visitors to designated areas.

Zastawniak stressed the importance of updating emergency contact information with the school so that parents can be easily reached.

Kate Wilcox is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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