In case you missed it: Recap of the March 19 safety forum

Fonda-Fultonville held a safety forum for parents and students this month. The purpose of the forum was to share information about the work we are doing to strengthen the security of our schools, the training that students and staff receive, and the supports that we provide to your families. There was also a question and answer period.

The district welcomed a group of panelists who discussed safety measures, procedures, training and mental health supports.

Montgomery County School Safety Task Force

Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith presented about the countywide approach to high threat incident planning. In the past two years, law enforcement agencies and Montgomery County’s school districts joined together to take a unified approach to school safety. They created the Montgomery County School Safety Task Force, which includes all Montgomery County school superintendents, representatives from the Emergency Management and Sheriff’s Offices, all municipal police forces, state police, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The goal of this group is to support student safety and create a consistent approach to how schools conduct their lockdown procedures. The team supports lockdown drills and provides professional guidance and feedback to schools on outside access issues, drill procedures, unsafe areas, etc.

ALICE: A nationally-recognized emergency response program

We have adopted a unified system that will provide our students and staff with a variety of options to keep them safe if a situation arises at school. This system is a nationally-recognized emergency response program known as ALICE. ALICE is an acronym for the various options students and staff will have in the event of a school emergency. The letters stand for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Confront, Evacuate.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Mike Lewis, who is a school board member and district parent, talked about how ALICE gives options to students and staff during a school emergency. You can watch a video about ALICE at https://www.alicetraining.com/resources-posts/featured-videos/waltham-public-schools/.

Fonda-Fultonville’s staff were given ALICE training at the beginning of the school year. The district’s middle school and high school students were given the training on Tuesday, March 20.

School Safety Drills

Jessica Barnes is the district’s school safety specialist. She talked about the district’s school safety drills, procedures and protocols.

A school safety specialist provides school districts with the tools and resources to maintain a safe and healthy environment, addressing health, safety and environmental issues as well as mandates in the schools.

Part of Barnes’ role is to assist the district with safety committee meetings and performing different drills required by state education department. The Safety Committee brings forth any safety concerns throughout the district and comes up with a plan of action to address those concerns. The New York State Education Department requires every school district to conduct eight fire drills, four lockdown drills and one emergency release drill throughout the school year.

Law enforcement is present at every lockdown drill that the district conducts, and all are announced as a drill. After the drill, officials meet to discuss what went well and what may need improving — this is called a “hot wash,” or a debriefing.

Added security measures

Fonda-Fultonville has plans in place to further increase the security of its school buildings.

  • A school resource officer will be hired for the 2018-19 school year. The district is pursuing grant funding to help pay for the position.
  • The district will implement a notification system to alert personnel if any door on the campus is left open. The infrastructure for this system will be added this summer.
  • The district will add additional security cameras this summer to ensure coverage both internally and externally.
  • The district is pursuing a door locking mechanism that could be controlled remotely to limit access to rooms during an emergency situation.

Mental health supports

Fonda-Fultonville Social Worker Melanie Capron discussed the mental health supports that districts provide to students and their families. There is a team of people that communicates regularly and works together to address concerns about individuals who may need help. Capron said services are given the same day that the personnel receive information from educators, staff, students and community members.

School personnel include:

  • Social Worker Melanie Capron for grades PK-4
  • School Counselor Brittany Houck for grades 5-7
  • School Counselor Emily Miller for grades 8-12
  • School Counselor Ryan Fedele for grades 8-12
  • School psychologist three days per week for grades K-12. A school psychologist is responsible for psychological testing.

Added supports:

  • Catholic Charities counselors Courtney Javarone & Janine Brown for grades 5-12
  • Arbor Counseling Services: Social Worker Sara Boerenko and Jacqueline Melley grades PK-12
  • Family Counseling Services for grades K-12
  • Campbell House: Behavioral specialist and psychologist for grades PK-8.

Resources for parents

Montgomery County Public Health & Mental Health Department Director Sara Boerenko joined the panel to share resources for parents. Boerenko, who is also a social worker at FFCS, talked about how parents can support their children and talk to them about school safety and mental health.

Communication and prevention

Capron and Boerenko talked about how crisis and counseling teams work together, and highlighted some of the district’s prevention programs, including

  • HFM Prevention Council: Sean Flynn and Paul Meher for grades K-5
  • SweetHearts and Heroes: Anti-bullying/empathy building program
  • BRAVES: Pilot bullying prevention program. Student ambassadors are trained by Sweethearts and Heroes representatives in the techniques of championing and empowering their peers.
  • Cyberbullying Prevention: Presentations by State Police Trooper Rothwein
    Brave Strong: K-12 Character Education Program

Community support

Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio, who moderated the forum, closed the event with a discussion about the importance of collaboration and communication among all community members when it comes to matters of school safety. The mantra is, “see something, say something.” Be vigilant. It is critical that our community works together to watch over our schools. Do not hesitate to share any information that raises a red flag. It is important to share it not only with the district, but law enforcement as well.