Summary of Community Conversation: Safety and Security at Northfield Elementary
March 15, 2018
On Thursday, March 15th, Mrs. Lopez and Mrs. Golden hosted a community conversation to discuss safety and security at Northfield. We had a very productive conversation with the many parents in attendance. We began by articulating our emergency preparedness plan and efforts taken within the school to keep our students and staff safe. We were able to identify areas of concern and received suggestions for improvement. The parents in attendance walked away with a greater understanding of our emergency plans and hopefully a peace of mind knowing we are doing all we can to maintain a safe environment. Below is a summary of the highlights of our conversation. If you were in attendance and you feel that we missed something important, please let us know and we will update this document. If you were not in attendance and something is unclear, please let us know that, as well. We are always available by phone, email, or in person to discuss any questions or concerns about this very important subject.
During our community conversation, we shared information with parents regarding the drills that are conducted each year at Northfield. Every year, we are required to conduct a minimum of 16 drills with a small group of students, a grade level, or the entire student body. The drills are conducted at various times of day. Below is a description of each drill and the minimum requirement of exercises that need to be practiced each year.
Evacuation (10 drills)
This is usually practiced in the context of a fire drill. Students have practiced evacuating from their classrooms, related arts classes, and the cafeteria. Each classroom and office has a map posted by the main exit indicating a primary and secondary evacuation route. There are 3 assembly areas (blacktop, kindergarten playground area, and bike rack area) on the school grounds where classes would assemble after evacuating. Once in the assembly area, the teacher in charge would account for all students. Any student that was not with their class at the time of evacuation (health room, bathroom, front office, etc.) will evacuate out of the closest exit and go to the assembly area leader to check in. Teachers will indicate to the assembly area leader that he/she can’t account for a child and the assembly area leader uses the walkie talkie to ask the other leaders if anyone can account for the student. The drill is not considered complete until we can account for each student and staff member.
Reverse Evacuation (1 drill)
This is practiced when students are outdoors and need to get into the building as quickly and orderly, as possible, due to a weather emergency or another situation happening outdoors.
Shelter in Place (2 drills)
There are two reasons for executing a Shelter in Place: threat of severe weather or airborne hazardous materials. During these drills, students practice moving to a predetermined location in the building away from windows and expansive roof spans (Gymnasium, Media Center, Cafeteria). In most instances, an exterior classroom moves into an interior classroom and buddies with another group of students. When a classroom doesn’t have a close interior classroom to move into, students shelter in different locations (bathrooms, closets, stage ramp, in the hallway up against a cinderblock wall away from windows, etc.). If the Shelter in Place is being executed due to hazardous materials, the HVAC system is shut down in the building, windows/doors are closed, and, if needed, towels/blankets are placed to cover air gaps under windows/doors.
Duck, Cover, Hold On (1)
This is used when there is an immediate threat of severe weather and students would not have time to transition to an interior classroom. Students are directed to go under a desk or table, hold their heads, and face away from windows. After a severe weather event and when safe to do so, students would be directed to evacuate the building so that the structural integrity of the building could be assessed and evaluated by building services staff members.
Modified Lockdown (1)
This is used when there is a potential threat in the neighborhood or neighboring communities. The Howard County Police Department in collaboration with Central Office administrators often make the decision to put schools into modified lockdown, but occasionally, a tip from a member of the community may put the school into modified lockdown, as well, while we alert the HCPD and wait for further instructions. We always err on the side of caution. During a modified lockdown, all students that are outside are brought inside immediately, no one is let into the building (even with proper identification), blinds are drawn and exterior doors/windows are covered to the best extent possible. Business as usual continues inside the building. Students that need to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom or health room go with a buddy.
This is used when there is an immediate threat inside the building. Lockdown drills have been practiced 3 times so far this year--twice in classrooms at different times of day and each grade level practiced a lockdown in the cafeteria. All classrooms and offices have a lockdown magnet affixed to the inside of the door jamb. During normal use, the magnet covers the strike plate on the door so that the door handle can remain in the locked position, but the door can be easily opened and closed for everyday use. During a lockdown, the magnet could quickly be removed and the door pulled into the locked position in a matter of seconds. Staff are directed to immediately pull the locked door shut, move students as quickly as possible to a safe location in the classroom/office where they can’t be seen or heard. Staff have been directed not to open the door for anyone and to not leave the room for any reason (unless they see smoke/fire and the danger of staying in the space is greater than evacuating). In the event of a true lockdown emergency, the only person that will unlock the door will be a uniformed police officer when it is deemed safe to do so.
We also discussed how every member of our staff and our community plays an important role in keeping our students safe---not only in school, but in all areas of the community. We emphasized the importance of “see something, say something” and talking to your children about emergency preparedness at home.
We asked our conversation attendees to always report suspicious activity that they see in the community. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t seem right, follow your gut instinct and report it. Depending on the nature of your concern, you can alert Northfield, the Howard County Police Department, or both. If you are second guessing whether or not you should report something, please err on the side of caution and report it.
During our community conversation, one parent asked a question about how we handle domestic and/or mental health crises that may occur in the community. Often, Northfield would not know about these situations unless someone alerted us. Again, if you see something or something makes you question student safety, please say something. Alerting administration at Northfield would remain strictly confidential, but may give us a valuable heads up to a future situation.
We also encouraged parents to discuss emergency preparedness with their children at home. While we conduct many drills each year to practice emergency responses to different situations, we often do not talk about the “why” behind each drill because this information can cause anxiety for children and parents vary in their wishes for what type and extent of information is shared with their children. We also practice drills that only pertain to the school setting and unfortunately emergency situations can arise anywhere at anytime. Parents are their children’s first teachers and know their children best. For these reasons, we feel that it is appropriate to leave these types of conversations to parents.
Some topics you may want to talk about with your children, if you feel they are ready, are:
Importance of staying calm and silent in an emergency situation so that you can look to the adult in charge to give directions. Discuss various emergency situations and how children should respond to them.
Gun/Weapon safety- what to do if they see a gun or other weapon on the school bus, on the walk to school, in the school building, in a friend’s home, or in the community and the importance of promptly reporting this information to adults.
Lockdown drills at school and other places in the community- what they mean, why a school (or other location) may go into lockdown, what to do if you aren’t in your classroom or with your teachers (or another adult) when you hear lockdown announced over the PA system or when you hear an adult tell you that you need to go into lockdown.
During our conversation, we also discussed the process for entering Northfield on a daily basis. The main doors to the building are locked from staff arrival (7:30 a.m.) through student dismissal at 3:10 p.m. During these hours, all visitors must ring into the front office in order to be let in. Upon entering, visitors need to check into our Lobby Guard system with a valid license or government issued ID. The Lobby Guard is able to check for certain criminal offenses and will deny access to those individuals. All visitors who are permitted to enter the building will have a badge printed out via the Lobby Guard system and are required to wear the badge at all times while in the building. All staff members are required to also wear their school ID badges on a daily basis.
The Howard County Police Department and the HCPSS Office of Security will do periodic safety checks of all school buildings. During these checks, they attempt to gain access to the building through various entrances. They will also attempt to walk around the interior of the building without proper identification (Lobby Guard badge or staff badge) and check to see if a staff member stops them and walks them to the front office. We are happy to report that we have always passed these security checks. Northfield staff members know that when they see someone walking around the building without proper identification that they need to personally walk the person to the front office so the person can check-in and obtain the proper identification. We talk to students about never opening a door for someone who is knocking on one of the various doors around the building. If a child sees someone knocking to get in, he/she should alert a staff member. The staff member would tell the person to walk around to the main entrance to enter through the front office. You can help us by reiterating this message to your children.
The safety of students and staff is our top priority. We know when you send us your greatest treasures each and every day that you place a lot of trust in us and the Northfield staff. We do not take this great responsibility lightly. We feel confident in the processes and plans that we have in place if an emergency situation was to arise at Northfield. If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions for improvement, please reach out.
Cathleen Lopez, Principal
Colleen Golden, Assistant Principal