Being informed about policy helps in a school incident situation

MANISTEE — Most people do not realize that what the proper procedures or protocol that comes into play when an incident happens in a school.

Members of the Manistee Area Public Schools Board of Education discuss with superintendent Ron Stoneman the new document that will be placed on line at the school website detailing what steps and policy for releasing information is used when incidents occur at the school.

Many times the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and law enforcement policy in dealing with issues with minors limits the scope of information that can be delivered to the public. In an effort to educate the public on what the proper procedures and steps are in certain events, the Manistee Area Public Schools (MAPS) Student Safety Advisory Committee has created a matrix for the district website to show those steps.

This week Shannon Ladd of the Student Safety Advisory Committee at MAPS presented an overview of the proposed communication matrix overview document that the committee and administration have been working on.

Superintendent Ron Stoneman said they are hoping this document will help clear some of the confusion when incidents happen in the district. They plan to place the finished product on the website once it is electronically rendered, so the public can can review it and understand what the procedures are in handling those situations.

“Communication has been a large focus for the Student Safety Committee, and overall the administration and the district,” said Stoneman. “We have a matrix of communication that will add clarity.”

Ladd said the committee realized early on there was a need to get this type of information out to the public.

“We identified right away there was a perceived communication gap that was agreed upon and perceived depending upon who you were asking and what vantage point you were coming from,” said Ladd. “So this has become a priority and this document is kind of the product of all those discussions. It is feedback from our community members.”

Ladd said the idea is this will be a one-stop shop for communication as a parent, faculty and community members to publicly consume.

“There has been a lot of feedback that something is going on and it would blow up on social media and the school would be accused of not disclosing information or trying to hide things,” said Ladd. “There really needed to be a collective place where we could document what the guidelines are and what (information) can be shared with the public.”

She said there are a lot of components and without some standardized way to define them, document them and communicate them, and it was causing a lot of frustration in the community.

“This was just one of those things that needed to be done,” she said.

Ladd said there is a lot of information in the matrix and they did their best to make it cleaner and straight forward.The matrix contains explanation of four priority modes:

• P0 Proactive no risk: This is scheduled events like fire, tornado, lock down or other safety drills;

• P1 Child to child interaction: This is an isolated incident with no risk present to others. It can be physical interaction and includes no weapons;

• P 2 Secure mode: Secure mode can be activated if there is a safety concern at another school or in the area of the school. During secure mode access to the school building is restricted. Students will not be allowed outside the building. Although secure mode allows for increased physical security it allows for business as usual inside the classrooms;

• P 3 Lockdown: A lock down may be initiated for several reasons. Typically, lock downs are initiated in instances where there is violence in the building or the potential for violence in the building. In certain instances the school may be put in lock down mode due to a threat in a neighboring school until the threat can be investigated.

During lock down, classroom doors are locked, lights are turned off and students are gathered inside the classroom out of the view from the hallways. Parents are reminded that the worst thing they can do is go to the school during lock down. This causes valuable law enforcement resources to be expended on parents responding to the school instead of conducting an investigation into the potential threat.

Each segment matrix will include priority description, targeted response interval, school procedure, response/method tool, communication contacts, details to be communicated by law per FERPA, and legal direction and clarification for each of those priority codes.

Ladd said there is some challenge in the targeted response interval because every situation is going to be different.

“As a parent this sets an expectation, so I know who is going to be communicating to me and at least by when,” said Ladd. “We also added a school procedure to it as parents sometime think there is a lot of steps to the process, because we don’t hear about all the things you are doing in the heat of the moment.”

Ladd said the document has been reviewed by the school attorney. She said they thought it was important to include the information that can be shared on incidents and not a violation of privacy of the individuals involved and stating the laws that are in place as to why that needs to be followed.

“It is clearly stated here and can be verified by parents if necessary,” said Ladd. “We did our best to organize this so it becomes a useful tool. The plan is to post it to the web page so there is public consumption. We want to make sure that people understand this is governed by FERPA and governed by law. That is a key thing as it is not about anyone trying to hide information, and it’s about privacy and that there is laws that we have to abide by.”

Ladd said it also takes a lot of heat off of the faculty on what they can and can’t share in terms of information. She said that they want to make sure that the handbooks are also tied to it. There also will be a pop up box on the site stating it is following law.

She added that in the future they hope to include law enforcement procedure as well, which Ladd said will inform parents whether an incident is turned over to the police, and where and when that information will be available to the public.

“We hope to have those discussions soon,” said Ladd.

Another aspect to what they hope to add in proactive information is in the instance of bullying issues or those type of things.

Board member Daniela Thomas serves on the committee and said it has been a good process.

“I think it is great and it is something that was needed,” said Thomas. “I think when we can speak for a lot of us in here in it is about communication. The thing is how do we deal with it and get ahead of it.”

Jefferson Elementary principal Julia Raddatz added that it is part of a continuing process of working to be consistent in every situation. She said law enforcement have also played a key role in this process.

“For me to be able to say the same thing that (principals) Andy (Huber), Jason (Traviss) and Kenn (Kott) is important to our integrity as well,” said Raddatz. “As we grow, kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, they need to have trust in us and this helps.”

Traviss added the emphasis is on timeliness, but some things do take more time and it is good emphasis to talk about the realistic time frame and the restrictions that go along with that.

avatar

Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply