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The school board and city council will hear from a review committee Tuesday.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
A school safety review committee convened this year to look at safeguards in Salem City Schools will present its recommendations Tuesday to city and school leaders.
The Salem City Council and the Salem School Board will hold a joint work session to review the recommendations from the group of more than 40 teachers, students and parents, as well as public safety and other city government employees.
There has been renewed discussion about school safety in the Roanoke Valley in recent months in the aftermath of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people and himself.
“While we want to learn from these terrible, yet rare, instances of school violence, statistically we want to remind everyone that schools are a safe place to be,” Salem Superintendent Alan Seibert said.
During the safety committee’s meeting last month, a forensic clinical psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia briefed the group on school safety in Virginia. Seibert said Dewey Cornell, who is also director of UVa’s Virginia Youth Violence Project, talked with the group and underscored the importance of prevention.
Since Newtown, the school system has made some changes, Seibert said. On Tuesday, the committee will review some of the actions that have been done and outline other steps its members would like to consider in the future.
The discussion is expected to include the potential installation of card entry systems, panic buttons and a storefront at Andrew Lewis Middle School, among other items.
Seibert said there also has been discussion about having a tiered response to school safety based, for example, on events in the community.
“We like the tiered response,” he said, adding it is difficult to consistently maintain a high level of vigilance. “You want a level of vigilance, but we find it’s very effective when you ratchet those up for a short period of time.”
The purpose of the school safety committee, Seibert said, is specifically to make thoughtful, well-reasoned decisions, not to have a knee-jerk reaction to recent events.
Salem Police Chief Jeff Dudley said a lot of recommendations came from the committee and that the point of creating the group was to get community input.
Dudley said the police department and school system always have partnered to maintain safety in the community, but the committee was a way to get more insight.
“We knew what we felt like we needed to do, but having the extra eyes out there and the extra ears out there, there might be something we haven’t thought of,” he said.
Dudley also talked about the importance of prevention and said police have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“Right after the incident in Connecticut, we had contact with our schools and we took a look,” Dudley said. “Whenever something happens you look at: What happens if this happens to you? Are you ready for it? Are you ready to respond? What can you possibly do to prevent it from happening?”
Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess said Tuesday’s meeting will be about where officials go from here.
“What we want is to have the school board and the city council review and discuss what was learned through the process and then try and help decided or figure out what are the next steps from here,” Boggess said. “Obviously those come with discussion about how to fund them.”
Tuesday’s meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. at South Salem Elementary School, is a work session, so it is expected to include discussion, not action, on safety issues.
Boggess said officials will have to talk about what the wisest ways to fund school safety are.
“That’s what we’re looking to hear: where to go next,” he said.
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