Dear North Reading Staff, Parents, Families, and Caregivers,
I’m writing this afternoon to share an update on our school safety initiatives that I described in my welcome back letter in late August as well as others that has been introduced since that time. Our school safety team, including North Reading Public Schools administrators, the North Reading Police Department, and the North Reading Fire Department, have worked continuously on a plan to improve the safety and security of our students and staff.
Cooperation with the North Reading Police and Fire Departments
In adition to our School Resource Officer, who has a visible role in each school, last year we implemented the practice of having an increased presence of patrol officers in our buildings who routinely visit each school.On several occasions I have seen these officers visiting our buildings, interacting positively with students and staff, and providing feedback to our administrative team.
Our school safety team, composed of members of the school, police, and fire departments, continues to meet regularly and we have updated our school emergency operations plans. We have developed a schedule of fire and evacuation drills, as well as ALICE training for staff and students.
While this schedule does not provide the exact dates and times of each drill or training it does communicate a plan for the year and the windows for when this would occur and provide an opportunity for families, students, and staff to better understand our proactive approach for school safety. This will also provide all stakeholders with an opportunity to inquire with specific questions related to these drills and trainings in a timely manner.
ALICE Training and Drill Timeline
ALICE Drill with Administrators and Office Staff: August (completed)
All Employee ALICE Training Review Sept (completed)
FIRE Drill #1 (September) (completed)
FIRE Drill #2 (October) (completed)
ALICE Drill planning and debrief (December/January)
ALICE scenario exercise with All Employees (January 2024)
ALICE scenario exercise with Students and Staff (January 24, 2024)
FIRE Drill #3 (possible additional scenario) (Spring)
ALICE/ Health and Safety scenario with Students and Staff (Spring)
FIRE Drill #4 (possible additional scenario*) (Spring)
*A possible additional scenario would be a tornado watch, evacuation for gas leak, chemical spill, etc.
As a school safety team we have reviewed the developmental appropriateness of the drills and exercises as well as concerns related to trauma. Our approach will incorporate this awareness and we will practice drills that are sensitive to these concerns.
We will communicate more information at the school level as a follow up to each individual drill so that you are able to have a dialogue with your children and students.
If you have any questions about this upcoming schedule or our approaches please contact your building principal and we will be happy to discuss any questions or concerns.
Swatting Training and School IDs
Members of our School Leadership team, along with our School Safety team, have attended many recent trainings that are held in response to the unfortunate events that we hear about in the news. Many of the tragic school shooting incidents, as well as bomb threats and swatting incidents (hoaxes that may include a call to a school or town building in order to generate a response from safety personnel) have led safety officials to recommend best practices and training for all staff in response to these incidents.
This school year we are holding training sessions for staff related to swatting incidents for all staff who may receive this type of message. The resources and supports we are sharing have been compiled from the members of our school safety team who have attended several recent trainings led by the Massachusetts State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Department of Homeland Security Fusion Centers.
In addition, at these trainings for school safety and on campus incidents the law enforcement and safety experts have reiterated the importance of having students and staff visibly wear their School ID badges for easy identification on campus and for reunification purposes in the event of an incident.
For several years we have required our visitors to sign in electronically and to wear a visitor badge. For many years students and staff have been issued photo IDs. Last year we also initiated the practice of requiring all staff to visibly wear their IDs. This year, at the recommendation of the school safety team, we are initiating this practice for all students in grades 6 - 12. (Note: We are not considering this for our elementary students at this time but will continue to review safety recommendations from cooperating agencies as they are updated.)
Communication on this roll out has been taking place at the building level, with correspondence sent to students, staff, and families from the building principals. I think it is important for me to now include this information here as an update as several questions have arisen that are also being addressed at the building level.
In my meetings with the school leaders at the Middle and High School, I appreciated that much consideration had been given to the roll out of this change in the culture-- to have the IDs visible and not just on your person. Principals and Assistant Principals considered that there may be students with individual questions and concerns and they have come up with viable solutions and are committed to working with families on a case-by-case basis to address these concerns.
Among the concerns discussed was “what do we do if a student does not wear the ID?” and “what will the punishments/disciplinary actions be if a student does not comply?” The safety team understands and appreciates these questions but we are hopeful that our approach will be one of community-wide commitment to school safety and that all students and staff will wear their IDs in the same way that we comply with not propping open doors and ensuring that we follow sign-in procedures during the school day.
We appreciate the cooperation of all students, staff, and families as we make it the norm to have everyone on our campus follow this additional step for safety.
Finally, as a district we will be participating in year four of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Cybersecurity Training program. This grant funded program, offered by the Executive Office of Technology Services & Security, provides training for all North Reading Public Schools educators and staff that has proven beneficial both professionally and personally as we work to ensure data privacy, safety, and security in the cyber-world. I am excited to report that there will be a future program for our families and community as these lessons and modules are beneficial to everyone. More information on this program will be forthcoming.
Thank you for your support in our efforts to keep our schools safe. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any additional questions.