Crisis advisory board focuses on student safety
NEW CANAAN — On Nov. 14, a gunman killed four people in northern California before unsuccessfully attempting to enter an elementary school.
Though it occurred over 3,000 miles away from New Canaan, incidents like that come into play when the school district’s crisis advisory board meets each month. The board — composed of 24 members, including school administration, central office staff and local first responders — meets regularly to prepare and implement action plans based on best practices, as well as debrief on national and local crises such as the California incident.
“This is something I’m prideful of, as we have three agencies coming together to discuss best practices to protect and meet goals,” said Steve Bedard, assistant principal at Saxe Middle School and a member of the crisis advisory board. Bedard, along with South School Principal Joanne Rocco, discussed how the crisis advisory board has changed its plans and staff education over the years in a presentation to the Board of Education on Nov. 20.
Advisory board members receive active-shooter response instruction and go to workshops and seminars related to safety and crisis preparedness.
All school-certified and noncertified staff, including substitutes and summer program staff members, receive similar crisis training through drills, videos, summer sessions and tabletop scenarios where they walk through different “what if” situations. They are educated in CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and using an automated external defibrillator.
The same training is offered to campus monitors.
“Sometimes that’s the best way to train someone if they have to respond,” Rocco said. “We want them to feel they’re capable of responding in the right way.”
New Canaan schools are equipped with materials and procedures to increase safety. There is a school gate guardian at each school to run visitor licenses through a database and issue visitor badges. School exterior doors are locked at all times and the elementary and middle schools have closed campuses.
There are crisis supplies in all classrooms, as well as push-button locks allowing rooms to be secured without using physical keys. This is especially crucial in light of a lawsuit filed by the parents of two children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting, claiming classroom teachers did not have access to keys to lock the doors.
“This is a really big improvement in locking down,” Rocco said. “When we had keys, subs didn’t always have access to keys. We always hear that seconds count and the most important thing is to lock down. This makes it easy.”
A large part of keeping the schools safe is the presence of police. Middle and high schools have school resource officers who build relationships with students, staff and parents and act as a liaison between the schools and town. The officers develop youth-related programs and initiatives.
“It’s really important for (students) to see officers as human beings,” said Officer Jeffrey Deak, the school resource officer at Saxe Middle School.
Rather than school resource officers, the elementary schools in town have school liaison officers. While not based in the schools, liaisons visit classrooms, conduct safety-related assemblies and develop relationships with students.
Both types of school officers conduct safety presentations for students concerning electricity, fire, the internet and strangers. They inform students about various safety trends. For example, after a close call with a South School student crossing 106, police did a pedestrian safety presentation for students.
“It’s very difficult to know what will happen each day,” Deak said. “We work with the administration and build trusting relationships with students, staff and parents. That’s important to have a trusting bond with kids coming in and out of your sight every day.”
Schools also have campus monitors with backgrounds in law enforcement who watch the school grounds during the day.
Moving forward, the crisis advisory board will continue conducting school drills, evaluating plans based on local and national events, train staff and update plans based on best practices.
When asked by school board member Sheri West what else the district can do to support the advisory board, members said they’d like to work on training noncertified staff who don’t always have free time during the day. However, much of the most valuable training has already been done.
Rocco said the board is working on identifying needs in students before they potentially lash out.
“The work we’re doing this year in emotional intelligence is a great starting point,” the South School principal said.