Emergency manual in place for Madison schools
By CHUCK CLEMENT, Staff Reporter
As part of a web log that was posted last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan credited the dedication of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., for protecting many students during the Dec. 14 school shooting.|
However, Duncan also noted that the adults had followed safety procedures which the school district had in place to deal with certain emergencies. As part of the same Internet blog, Duncan encouraged schools across the nation to assemble emergency plans or, if they already had a plan in place, to review and practice their procedures.
Similar to many others, the Madison Central School District has made preparations for its staff to react to many different types of large and small emergencies, from an outbreak of violence to a hazardous chemical spill to a power outage.
According to Sharon Knowlton, principal at Madison High School, the school district had organized its current emergency manual and had it available during the fall of 2006.
"At that time, I had just arrived here in Madison from working in Minnesota," Knowlton said. "In Minnesota, the schools were required to have an emergency plan in place."
Knowlton didn't remember why emergency planning was mandatory in the Minnesota school system, but it's possible that officials there were responding to earlier school-related emergencies such as the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
When Madison's school emergency manual was originally organized in the summer of 2006, Knowlton said that school officials met with the local police department and the county emergency management director. She believes that they probably also met with representatives from the local fire department and Lake County Sheriff's Office.
"I do remember that we met several times to discuss what we should include, and then we hammered out the policies that we needed and how we would use them," Knowlton said.
After the original document was compiled, Madison's emergency manual wasn't set aside on a book shelf. Knowlton said that school representatives have reviewed the manual's contents annually, typically making some small revisions each time. The changes could include things as minor as the location of an evacuation assembly site.
The situations that school faculty and staff might need to deal with include threatening phone calls or the death of a teacher or student.
"It's difficult to predict how students might react to a death, especially during a school day," Knowlton said. "But we do know that we want to have our counselors well prepared to deal with the response from people here at the school."
According to Knowlton, the Madison public schools did conduct a limited lockdown exercise after a local shooting death that occurred last Jan. 31 to a retired teacher. She said that the increased security measures were in response to rumors that school teachers were possible targets.
"We secured our buildings for about two days after the shooting and then we relaxed a little bit when the police found a suspect and made an arrest," Knowlton said.
During the school year, Madison schools conduct practices for tornadoes and fires and conduct bus evacuation and school lockdown drills.
The school district also operates a "school reach" system in which parents can receive information from school officials via their e-mail, cell phones and land-line phones. Parents can receive updates about what activities are under way at the schools and sometimes they receive helpful reminders such as an early-release day.
"Right now, you might find us using (school reach) for weather-related things, like the two-hour delay for a school start that happened several weeks ago," Knowlton said.
She added that school districts have a large amount of resources available from the U.S. Education Department. As part of last week's blog from Secretary Duncan, he said the department could offer several resources "on Creating and Updating School Emergency Management Plans." DOE officials have also offered assistance in providing resources for helping young students recover from traumatic events.