Sirens blaring and panicked parents and students at Winooski Education Center earlier this month thankfully turned out to be a false alarm, but what some officials are saying is a true wake-up call.
"Thank goodness there was a false alarm in Winooski. But it just shows that we need to do a better job, a more coordinated job of providing support for educators and schools to keep kids safe, as well as the staff and community safe in their schools," Vt. Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca said.
Administrators, officials, and law enforcement met Wednesday at the first Governor's Statewide School Safety Training Conference in South Burlington to address these issues. Improving communication by upgrading technology was on the top of the list. Some parents in Winooski were left asking questions about the school's communication procedure after complaining that they received a notification of the incident by voice mail hours later and wish they were told sooner.
"Getting blasts out to community, to parents and others to inform them of what is going on in the school. The old phone trees, they are outdated," said Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Vt. Department of Public Safety.
Vermont's rural area schools require additional procedures as students and administrators may be waiting longer for law enforcement to arrive.
"There is no cookie cutter fix. We need to have something that is going to accomplish something in the rural part of the state that it will not in a more urban part of the state," Flynn said.
Surveillance cameras, like the ones that captured the Winooski incident and alarmed doors are the norm now in Vermont schools. But with all the safety measures, like armed school resource officers wearing bullet proof vests, how do students maintain a sense of comfort during the school day?
"Just engage with students, interact with students and feel comfortable myself approaching students and talking to students," said Christopher Mason, a school resource officer in Middlebury.
Officials say communication is key to prevent threats, and that suspicious social media behavior should be taken seriously.
"Many times there were some members of the communities nationwide who may have been aware of some of these incidents through various social media outlets," Flynn said.
Officials say that as many plans and security measures they might take, prevention through open dialogue with students and parents is the best way to avoid tragic incidents.
One school principal tells us that keeping tabs on what is going on in school is a constant work in progress. Regular meetings about suspicious behavior can prevent tragedies. Any concern a student voices to an official should always be taken seriously.
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