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Sublette school safety is priority

Modified: Friday, Dec 21st, 2012

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SUBLETTE COUNTY – The safety of students in schools has been a matter of public scrutiny since recent tragic events, most notably the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and also in a classroom invasion at Casper College earlier this month.

The safety of students in Sublette County is provided for by school officials and cooperation with the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), administrators said in recent interviews with the Sublette Examiner.

Superintendents for Sublette County School Districts No. 1 (SCSD#1) and No. 9 (SCSD#9) Jay Harnack and Gerry Chase, respectively, said their staffs and students undergo regular exercises, trainings and drills to prepare them for emergency situations.

“We’re all involved in that process, each building principal and the staff,” Chase said.

Chase said that each building in SCSD#9 performs monthly emergency drills.

“Most of them are fire drills and evacuations, but an appropriate amount are on lockdown situations. Some are announced to staff and some are unannounced,” he said.

In addition to staff and student exercises, Chase said SCSD#9 works closely with the SCSO to prepare and coordinate for police involvement.

“In the last few years the sheriff’s office has taken a more active role in our process,” Chase said.

SCSO personnel participate in emergency drills and provide feedback to district staff after exercises, according to Chase. The SCSO is also the source of the district’s strategies for emergency situations.

“The sheriff’s office has been very helpful with us in our planning and our drills and we have a very good relationship with them,” Chase said.

In SCSD#1, the situation is much the same. Building occupants undergo regular exercises for emergency situations, some specific to lockdown situations, according to Harnack.

SCSD#1 also has a crisis plan and emergency response manual.

“The crisis plan and emergency response manuals cover a wide range of crisis issues. … It does cover lockdowns, evacuations and shelter-in-place,” Harnack said.

Harnack also stated that SCSD#1 buildings have external measures installed to improve school safety, including surveillance equipment, cameras at entrances and landscaping that allows for maximum line-of-sight at entrances.

Exercises specific to an active shooter situation have been conducted, Harnack said, and is a topic of discussion among administrators.

“It is something that we do discuss on an ongoing basis,” Harnack said.

SCSO executive assistant M.L. Baxley confirmed that personnel participate in ongoing exercises with the school districts and will continue to provide a presence in the schools through a school resource officer and juvenile probation officer, with both rotating among buildings. Sheriff Dave Lankford was unavailable for comment at press time.

In addition to preparedness, both school districts offered responses to the recent tragedies. Harnack issued a statement from SCSD#1 following events at Sandy Hook, assuring the public that school safety is a priority and that counselors would be available to speak with students.

Harnack’s district response included a statement indicating that schools will, at the earliest possible opportunity, review lockdown procedures and ensure all responsibilities and duties are understood and actively assigned.

Chase also said he and his staff addressed the Sandy Hook incident and made support staff available to students.

“When we first heard about it, each principal was contacted and we discussed the situation and the hollow feeling it left us with,” Chase said.

Chase did not indicate plans to review emergency procedures, but said the SCSD#9’s preparedness is an ongoing task.

“Each year you make adjustments, you have new info, there are new strategies the sheriff’s office shares. … It’s an evolving process that we stay current with,” Chase said.

The districts’ readiness to deal with these situations is not a response to a tragedy but a pro-active plan. Emergency preparedness often only comes to public attention after a tragedy, but Sublette County schools are constantly aware, Chase said.

“The schools have always been cognizant. We don’t make it in the forefront of the students’ minds or the parents’ minds because we need to be focused on what good instruction looks like,” Chase said.

While good educational instruction continues in both districts, so must preparation.

“It’s a sad reality and we hope that nothing like that ever does happen, but we also need to be realistic and be prepared,” Chase said.

Harnack’s response can be found on the SCSD#1 website, www.pinedaleschools.


For the complete article see the 12-25-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-25-2012 paper.

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