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BETHLEHEM—Bethlehem Central School District administrators met with members of the town’s police department on Thursday, March 15, to talk about school safety.
Following events such as the Parkland, Fla. shooting last month and the arrest of a BCSD volunteer for alleged sexual assault earlier this month, the conversation about district safety could not have come at a more opportune time. The national student walkout demanding safety in schools happened just one day earlier.
Representatives from the Bethlehem Police Department, including resource officers assigned to the schools, met with BCSD Superintendent Jody Monroe, all district principals, department administrators and the district counseling supervisor to discuss building security, staff training, communications, vetting procedures for school volunteers, and providing a tool for students and the community to report suspicious behavior that could threaten school safety.
Both district-wide and building-specific safety plans, developed in conjunction with BPD and other local law enforcement agencies, currently exist and are reviewed and updated annually. District staff is trained in emergency response, and a variety of emergency drills are practiced throughout the year. Evacuation and lockdown drills are required by New York state law; evacuation drills, which used to be known as fire drills, are required eight times a year, while lockdown drills, which review the procedure used when there may be an imminent threat inside the building, are required four times a year. The district also practices lockout drills (bringing students inside, securing perimeter), bus evacuation drills (three times a year), shelter-in-place (tornado) drills, and hold-in-place drills (lockdown lite).
Also now available to students, as well as the rest of the community, is the rededicated town underaged drinking tipline. Now called the Confidential Tip Line (518-439-1503), it utilizes either voice mail or e-mail and may be used to report any type of tip, including threats of school violence.
“A student’s right to feel safe at school is paramount,” said Monroe in a safety newsletter sent out to district parents on Tuesday, March 20. “While we always encourage students who have safety concerns or are worried about themselves or someone they know to talk directly with an administrator or counselor, we understand that sometimes these concerns may take place outside the school day or when time is of the essence. This confidential tip line provides an additional and welcome resource for students and families alike.”
New district safety initiatives include:
The addition of extra security cameras to school buildings, a component of the $32 million bond project approved by district voters in 2016; plans are currently under review by the state Department of Education and the cameras will be installed once approval is received;
The addition of regularly scheduled “table-top” exercises that include key district personnel and first responders, including police and fire, who take part in simulated crisis scenarios;
The expansion of the district’s mass notification system, which alerts parents in the case of an emergency or a school closing, to include text messages, beginning Tuesday, April 3.
“The [new] system also provides us with the capability to send automated voice calls to parents as well,” said Monroe. “You will be hearing more about School Messenger, and the new text and voice features, in the coming weeks. Before then, be sure review your contact information in Aspen and if you need to update your information, please contact our District Registrar Melissa Haas at email@example.com or at 518-439-2442.”
BCSD is also exploring a new visitor access system that would allow employees to ID visitors and check them against the state sex offender database in real time.
“My administrative team is gathering information to determine the logistics of installing such a system districtwide,” said Monroe. “A scan entry would also provide the district with a ready resource to check school volunteers against the sex offender registry.” Currently, the district requires that volunteers who will be working regularly with students or without staff supervision, get fingerprinted. This includes all coaches, who are also subject to board approval.
“Since the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, I have fielded many different questions regarding safety and security in the Bethlehem Central School District,” wrote Monroe in the March 20 newsletter. “I want to assure you that these issues are always at the forefront of the decisions we make here in Bethlehem. We continuously seek out ways to better safeguard the health and well-being of our students and staff, learning from our own experiences and from those of others, while honing our practices and reviewing areas for improvement.”