Filling in the Blanks with Ramee Gentry: Being fully prepared is a top priority

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Filling in the Blanks with Ramee Gentry: Being fully prepared is a top priority
Ramee Gentry is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.
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It is a tragic reality of our times that there is a chance any one of us could encounter a dangerous situation any place and any time. People gathered to enjoy a concert, a baseball game or going to work or school can find themselves suddenly in the midst
of a violent encounter.

Alexandria City Public Schools has always made the safety of its students, staff and visitors a top priority, but recognizing these growing risks, the division is engaging this year in a shift in addressing emergency situations.

These changes build on the strong framework and systems already in place, while incorporating the latest research on the best practices for these types of incidents.
The changes fall into two broad categories: communications to the community regarding emergency situations, and training in our school buildings for how to react.

When the threat is inside the school building, the situation will be described as a “lockdown.” The term lockdown will only be used when a violent intruder is inside the building.

Previously, a lockdown required that doors be closed, the blinds pulled, lights turned off and that students sit facing a wall away from windows. These procedures came out of the drive-by incidents in the 1980s and, although they worked for the types of incidents that were common at that time, there are sometimes better actions that can be taken in the types of incidents we are more likely to face today.

Research into violent encounters has shown that when those at the scene are empowered to take actions appropriate to the situation, fewer lives are lost. The new procedures will empower staff and students to choose other options during a lockdown. These may include evacuating the building, barricading doors or distracting a violent intruder. Students and staff will receive additional training and drills on these new options for lockdown situations.
In sending out communications to our community regarding emergency situations, we will also use updated terminology, adopted in federal emergency guidelines, to indicate the nature of the threat.

When the threat is outside the school building, the situation will be described as “secure the building.” This was previously referred to as a “lock-in” and throughout this year both “secure the building” and “lock-in” will be used, with “lock-in” ultimately phased out.
The term “secure the building” more accurately describes the situation — that there is no current danger inside the building, and in order to keep people in the building away from harm, the protocols for “secure the building” are in effect.

Should a “secure the building” situation develop as students are in transit to or from school, appropriate measures will be taken based on the circumstances to get and keep students at a secure location. Phasing out the phrase “lock-in” will help avoid confusion between threats inside versus outside the building.

None of us like to contemplate these situations occurring at any of our schools, but it is our responsibility to prepare ourselves with the best tools and training possible. We hope that it will never have to be used, but we are also glad that the training and drills that our students will receive will be life skills that they can practice and use long after they have left our schools.

If you would like more information about these new procedures, please visit the ACPS website for the FAQ on this topic: www.acps.k12.va.us/Page/2060.

The writer is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.

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