Back to school -- Parish school system already complying with state crisis management mandate
MORGAN CITY, La. -- While a Louisiana law went into effect Thursday requiring public schools to hold annual safety drills to rehearse crisis management plans, a response to the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting, St. Mary Parish has had such plans in place since 1999, following the Columbine, Colo., school shooting.
St. Mary Parish public schools at-risk interventionist Diane Wiltz said she believes the school system has procedures in place “that are not only comprehensive, but more importantly, plans that serve to protect the care, welfare, safety and security of both staff and students. With that said, however, because of the very nature of crisis, our plan is dynamic — changing depending on the ‘signs of the times’,” she said.
There is no doubt that the school massacre that took place at Columbine High School several years ago forever changed the way schools think of campus safety and security, Wiltz said. Similar reviews of school security happened across the country after the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting.
Immediately following the Columbine tragedy, St. Mary convened a meeting with municipal, parish and state emergency responders and health care officials to create a parish-wide crisis response manual. After many meetings, research and consults from experts, a color-coded system was developed to respond to the various types of crisis situations, Wiltz said.
The local crisis response plan uses four different colors to indicate the various types of crisis. This color-coded system addresses not only on-campus crisis, but also includes off-campus crisis situations that could affect the physical, emotional or mental well-being of staff and students.
The school system coordinates with local emergency responders, including law enforcement and fire departments, to schedule crisis drills at all schools.
Each school is required to have four drills annually: two lockdowns and two campus evacuations. In addition, staff at each school has been trained to bring emergency contact information and procedures for securing medication for students and staff during a crisis, Wiltz said.
Additionally, principals are required to have a “reunification plan” in place to reunite children with their parents in a crisis situation where the campus has to be evacuated, Wiltz said.
In the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting, St. Mary changed the way its school buildings can be accessed.
“We no longer have an open door policy as it relates to access to our school buildings. All doors are locked and there is only one access for entry. Visitors, including school personnel who do not work on that campus, have to ‘buzz in’ to gain entrance into buildings,” Wiltz said.