Natrona County School District: Balance Safety, Community Links
The Natrona County School District wants to keep students and employees safe, but at the same time it doesn't want to lose the local spirit that binds neighborhoods and people, a trustee said Monday.
"It's really important that we remember these schools are the centers of the community; they're places where people go to play bingo, to have basketball games," Toni Billings said after the school district board's regular meeting Monday.
"We need to keep them safe, but at the same time they need to feel homey enough and welcoming enough that people don't feel like they're entering an airport security line and they have to be metal-detected and wanded," Billings said. "I think we have to keep a balance there where we're protecting our students, but we're also making a place where they spend seven hours a day where they want to be."
The district has had security and safety measures in place for years, but recent shootings at schools elsewhere in the country have spurred more focused planning.
Before the regular meeting, the trustees met during a work session with four district officials who are developing a 10-part ongoing plan for security.
Associate Superintendent Walt Wilcox and human resources director Mike Jennings outlined the plan. Some aspects began in 2017, and most are intended to be completed by the end of this year:
- Identify the schools' needs for tracking data about major violations, and how they're reviewed by public safety officials and the community.
- Develop procedures to respond to threats.
- Make safety policies consistent throughout the district.
- Train staff and students.
- Offer programs for social and emotional issues, and offer counseling.
- Improve security such as a a main point of entry into buildings, possibly add metal detectors, and implement policies about backpacks.
- Increase law enforcement support.
- Improve communications.
- Review policies in school handbooks and on the district's website.
- Review the crisis management plan.
District Superintendent Steve Hopkins said crisis management plans for schools have been around for a long time, but technology has changed the priorities of the crises.
For example, the greatest risk in a school a century ago was fire, Hopkins said.
Fire is still a risk, but it's not at the top of the list, he said. In 10 years, the priorities for crises probably will be different than they are now, he added.
Trustee Kevin Christopherson asked whether the plan will include more school resource officers, who are law enforcement officers.
Wilcox said he's met with Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters, but also wants to meet with the Natrona County Sheriff's Office because some of the schools in the district are outside Casper city limits.
Wilcox is looking to increase the number of school resource officers to four or five in the next year and have them primarily based at Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools, and Dean Morgan and Centennial middle schools, he said.
But the trustees also wanted to make sure the schools did not lose their connections with the community.
Billings said the plan is trying to achieve that balance.
"We know this is trauma based," she said. "Our kiddos are struggling out there. We know that. We know why this violence is coming our way, why it's coming into our schools. It's just an outshoot of what's going on in our community."