Saturday, December 15, 2012

Addressing the Safety of our Students

With the recent tragic events that took place at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, I am hearing parents in Chesterfield asking questions such as "is my child safe?" and "what if something horrific like this happened at our school?".  The truth is that a tragedy such as this could happen anywhere in America.  As parents we always have the safety and security of our children in mind, but when something of this magnitude happens, we tend to have a heightened awareness and take additional precautions to ensure the safety of our children.

One of the most important things we can do as parents, to help protect our children, is to be informed.  It is imperative that we understand that our schools do have Emergency Management Plans in place, but more importantly, that we understand what that actually means for our students and what role we play as parents.  The questions that we should be asking of ourselves are:

1) Do I know how to find out about my child in the event of an emergency?  How will my school communicate with me and do I know how to access those resources?
2) Do I know if I should go to the school or is it more effective to allow those trained to handle the situation?  What does the school expect me to do and am I prepared?  Do I have a backup plan?
3) Is my contact information up-to-date so that my school can get in contact with me in the case of an emergency?  Are my emergency contacts aware that they are on the list and how to respond?
4) Have I talked with my child and asked them what they have learned in school about what to do in case of an emergency situation?  Do they have questions that I can help answer or concerns that I can help alleviate?  
5) Who is my school's Child Safety Officer or School Resource Officer?  How do they help my student and what can I do as a parent to help them help my student?
6) If I have specific questions or concerns, do I know who I should go to?  Have I reached out to them?

In a school safety update sent to parents of Chesterfield County Public School students, our Superintendent outlined some of the general information about the school division's crisis prevention and management efforts.  Hopefully, you have already taken the time to review the general information and have contacted your school Administrator (Principal) or the school division's Community Relations Department if you have further questions.  Below you will find the outlined specifics and you can view the entire news release here.         

Emergency Management Plans

• The school division has a critical incident plan, which includes prevention and response efforts.  This document is reviewed and revised annually. Each school has its own critical incident team and customized response and prevention procedures. Included are evacuation plans in the event of an emergency. Critical incident teams from each school participate in planning meetings, trainings and drills throughout the year.  

Individual School Prevention Efforts

• Individual school prevention efforts include but are not limited to ID badges for visitors, stopping visitors
without badges in hallways and monitoring access to entrance points. With the help of PTAs and volunteers,
schools have worked to increase monitoring front entrances.
• All schools have a visitor management system, a technology‐based system that helps us monitor who is in school facilities. Each visitor must provide a driver’s license, which is scanned into the computer system for security checks. Each visitor is checked against the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry. Visitors are then provided a visitor sticker that includes photo identification.
• Secondary schools are equipped with interior and exterior video cameras that allow us to monitor activity in and out of the building.
• Elementary school entrances are locked and equipped with a doorbell‐entrance system. Each visitor must ring the bell and be buzzed in by a front office worker, who is able to see the visitor through a camera. Upon entry, front office staff members are able to monitor the front entrance by video and guide the visitor to the office.

• Schools also have procedures for securing onsite trailers. They include but are not limited to locking doors when students are in the trailers, locking doors when the trailer is empty, using the buddy system when a student needs to leave the trailer, taking the entire class on a bathroom break if needed, and providing trailers with two‐way radios so there is contact with the main building.   

School Security Personnel

• Chesterfield County School Resource Officers are assigned to the high and middle schools.  
• The school division’s security office takes the lead in performing safety and security checks to help implement policies and best practices.
• Multiple schools also have security monitors who work to provide a safe learning environment.  


In the event of an emergency, the school division will share information and directions with parents
• on its web site (;  
• via Blackboard Connect, a parent notification system that provides the ability to record and send messages via web and telephone;  
• on social media outlets via Facebook ( and Twitter (;  
• on the school division’s public access channels – Verizon cable Channel 27 and Comcast cable Channel 96; and  
• through local media outlets as permitted.

Please make a point to talk with your children about this and other important safety issues. Ensure that you are informed and prepared.  There is never a better time than now.  My prayers go out to the Sandy Hook Elementary School community.  I am hopeful that this simple little blog can help just one parent ensure that they have done all they can to be prepared for their student.  As always, feel free to contact me if you or your PTA need support.

Maria Cox- Chesterfield County Council of PTAs/PTSAs  Health & Safety Committee Chair

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