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The East Greenbush Central School District hosted a virtual School Safety Community Forum on Wednesday evening to provide important information to families about school safety plans, collaboration with law enforcement and ongoing efforts to keep students, staff and visitors safe.

Superintendent Jeff Simons led the presentation, which also included school administrators, police officers and the director of the Questar III BOCES Health and Safety Team, which coordinates regional school safety planning.

“We want to keep parents and caregivers informed regarding our school district’s safety plans,” said Mr. Simons. “Communication and collaboration between the district, law enforcement and the community is critically important to ensure our safety plans focus on prevention, intervention and effective responses if incidents occur.”

The presentation, which was followed by a Q&A session, focused on the following topics:

  • School safety policies and procedures
  • Role of School Resource Officers
  • Collaboration with law enforcement
  • Improvements to infrastructure and technology
  • Communication with school staff and families
  • Mental health awareness

School Safety Policies and Procedures

The East Greenbush CSD complies with NYS Education Department regulations regarding school safety. This includes creating a comprehensive school safety plan and building-level plans each school year. The plan details emergency response procedures, policies for responding to threats and acts of violence, notification protocols and requirements for safety drills.

The school safety plan is open to public comment during the summer and then adopted by the Board of Education at a public meeting.

Role of School Resource Officers

Columbia High School and Howard L. Goff Middle School each has a School Resource Officer in the buildings on school days, which is a uniformed police officer, to create a safe and positive school environment. 

They also push into classrooms to provide safety lessons, coordinate safety drills and serve as a resource to the community.

Collaboration with Law Enforcement

One of the primary reasons for hosting this School Safety Community Forum was in response to the continuing concerns throughout the country regarding violence against schools including school shootings and social media threats against schools. School administrators discussed the current safety measures in place at East Greenbush schools including single point of entry, security vestibules, surveillance cameras, lockdown security systems and routine visits from local police officers.

Officer Ashley and Officer Rich Eckel from Schodack Police Department, who visits Green Meadow Elementary School daily, addressed the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas and how local police departments would respond differently if an incident were to take place in this area.

The police departments serving the East Greenbush Central School District train every year in the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, or ALERRT, which is a research-based active shooter response training program, said Officer Ashley. Police officers also participate in all lockdown drills. Additionally, all school employees have participated in Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training.

“I just wanted everyone that’s in our school district and all of our surrounding areas to know that we’re committed to the safety of our kids,” said Officer Ashley. “We train every single year, not just one department by themselves but as a group, so that we all respond the same way and we put the kids or innocent victims, wherever the situation may be, as our top priority.”

Officer Eckel put it in clear terms for school staff and parents.

“If there is something in that school that wants to do harm, we are going into that school immediately. We are not waiting for people,” he said. “If I’m here by myself, I’m going in by myself and that’s the way we train.”

The school district has a Health and Safety Committee that meets regularly to discuss safety topics and new initiatives. This leads to safety improvements, but importantly, fosters positive relationships between the schools and local law enforcement.

Improvements to Infrastructure and Technology

District administrators outlined many improvements made to school safety through infrastructure and technology upgrades as part of the nearly complete $39 million Capital Project

Improvements include new security cameras, new fire alarm systems, a new PA system integrated with lockdown protocols, a visitor management system that scans photo IDs, software to monitor school-issued computers and vape detectors at the high school.

Communication with School Staff and Families

A key component to school safety is communication, whether that is creating safety plans amongst various stakeholders, collaboration with law enforcement or informing school staff and parents of emergencies.

The East Greenbush CSD uses ParentSquare to send real-time alerts to staff and parents via text, email, voice and push notifications. These alerts can be sent for snow days, early closings or emergencies as they happen. Information about emergencies would also be posted on the school district website (www.egcsd.org) and its social media channels.

Mental Health Awareness

A growing issue for schools across the country is the mental health of students. Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told federal lawmakers that the pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on mental health in young Americans. Unfortunately, teachers and staff are seeing this in East Greenbush schools as well.

Schools are working with local and state organizations such Rensselaer County Mental Health, the NYS Office of Prevention and Health Initiatives and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to address mental wellness. Professional development has focused on improving relationships with students, trauma-informed classrooms and practicing self-care to manage stress.

All East Greenbush schools have a psychologist, school counselor and social worker on staff. And Columbia and Goff added a mental health satellite clinic last winter to improve access for students in need of mental health services.

“East Greenbush has a long history of working collaboratively within the administrative team, with our parents and with our respective law enforcement agencies to do everything we can to make sure school safety is a critical priority,” said Mr. Simons.

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