Lexington-Richland School District 5 will soon be adding another item to what is becoming a long list of safety precautions.
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Superintendent Akil Ross told the Chronicle alarms on every exterior door at every district school will soon be added, joining measures such as metal detectors, cameras and school resource officers.
“It is the beginning of learning,” Ross said in an interview with the Chronicle, underscoring the importance of safety. “You will not learn if your basic need of safety and security is not met. Since we're in the business of learning, we must be in the business of making sure that every child feels safe and secure in our schools.”
Ross said the district is currently working toward purchasing the 1,354 door alarms, which will cost the district about $1.1 million, with the district currently accepting bids. The cost to install the doors includes labor, installation, warranties and insurance.
Ross compared the need to keep updating the district’s security measures to iPhone updates. According to him, the district’s “multi-layered” school security system breaks down into three main components: communication, compartmentalization and awareness.
In October, the district hired Beth Hook as its first mental health services coordinator, a role in which she has prioritized linking students and families to mental health services, providing tools and resources for staff, and improving the sustainability and capacity of the district’s clinical counseling.
One main resource for students to reach out to administrators is the Stop-It app, which provides a 24/7 anonymous tip line to report mental health issues, bullying or just general information. According to Ross, this app has been commonly utilized by students and is appreciated by parents.
“We asked [parents], ‘What are some practices that you would like to see continue?’ and one of the practices that they cited was the Stop-It app.” the superintendent said. “Not everybody wants to raise their hand and tell the teacher or the principal. Some don't want to get out of their seats and go to the counselor's office. But to [be able to] report that through the Stop-It app has just been a huge asset to not only our safety plan but our mental health plan.”
When it comes to students who are experiencing bullying, the district has recovery services available.
The district is also equipped with the Care Solace service. This is available to all students, family and staff and helps connect those in need to verified programs and therapists at no cost. According to Ross, the district used to find these connections themselves.
During a District 5 webinar on Nov. 9 with Melissa Reeves, a national expert in threat assessments and school safety, people attending learned about “knee-jerk” reactions – cases where school, parents or students react without thought. This can lead to a student receiving discipline for something they were not involved in, Reeves explained.
But that’s not every situation. She told a story about an Instagram post that threatened a school. When the suspected creator of the account was brought in, they denied it. A technology specialist determined someone had made the fake account so they could remove their competition from the chance at getting on a varsity sports team.
“Our technology team is becoming really versed in some of these latest apps and there are boards and communication boards to really help us kind of dive into the origins of this,” Ross said when asked how the district would handle such a situation. “It's not 100%, but it's growing.”
The superintendent compared managing the various concerns in safeguarding the physical and mental health of students, faculty and staff to learning to walk and chew gum at the same time.
“[Our job] is to make sure 17,502 students come to school and come back home safely 180 times a year,” he said.
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