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RAMP UP FOR SCHOOL DAYS


August 1, 2013
By John Muldoon

948 words – MR

Ramp up your consciousness

by John Muldoon

We’re a few months away New Years Day 2014 but September marked the beginning of the unofficial New Year for many children, adults, teachers and professors.

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Soon after Labour Day, thousands of children ventured into a classroom for the first time; others returned to familiar buildings. Some stepped into a new “tween world” of high school, while older students began their post-secondary education.

In the evenings, many schools offer adults a whole array of subjects for further education.

After school many day students share and relax at local recreation centres, where learning and athletics can be just as intense as in school.

And as usual, everything is back to what it should be, what we might consider “normal.”

As our children have returned to their academics and associated activities, policing may have to look different for the 2013-2014 school year.

Yes, many of the tried and true programs will be restarted such as school resource officers, Dare and school Crime Stoppers, Internet safety, cadets and children street proofing programs, just to name a few. Each will contribute in some way to keeping our children safe.

After the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy and what seem like numerous other gun-related incidents in schools and universities in the past number of years, policing needs to be more vigilant. The public is much more attune to crime and major incidents in schools and their communities than ever before, with the expanded use of social media platforms and the media’s decision to broadcast news from them to a more media savvy general population.

Weather can also make a difference. Just remember what happened when a tornado touched down around Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City this past May.

Teachers this year understand and are fully aware that after the initial practice lockdown drill or fire drill, the next one may be the real thing. We know that someone, somewhere will try to copy or invent a new scenario similar to Columbine, Newtown or Montreal Polytechnique. We all hope these kinds of tragedies never happen again, but unfortunately they will.

In the last few years many schools have adopted a locked front door policy. Someone, usually a secretary, buzzes visitors in after they state their business. This is fine, as long as they are not distracted with other duties. Certainly this system is a vast improvement over an open door policy but it is not perfect – and there are still boards that don’t have the budget for this new closed-door policy.

Some US schools have authorized principals to store long guns in their office. The Associated Press reported in July that Arkansas high school assistant principal Cheyne Dougan would be one of more than 20 school district staff members carrying concealed weapons.

The story notes that, under “a little-known law that allows licensed, armed security guards on campus, Dougan and other teachers at the school will be considered guards.” The sub-headline read “High school says program best way to protect students.” Are these people trained and have a plan or are they just required to have a permit to carry a gun?

Each police department has its own unique strategy and plan to address school safety based on local needs. Often overlooked in planning is the need for additional police surveillance of what might be considered soft targets, including recreation centres and libraries. The latter two have not been the focus of any major incident but should not be overlooked as potential places where trouble can occur.

Boys and girls clubs, YMCA, YWCA and numerous other places where youth gather should be considered potential locations where incidents can occur.

The majority of recreation centres, libraries, etc., still maintain an open door policy and anybody can walk in, at least to the reception desk – if there is a reception area. These soft targets are unlikely to be prepared for major incidents. Some may have an emergency plan but most have likely never considered themselves as targets.

Do local police agencies have the most up-to-date contact information for these locations? Are basic floor plans available to all emergency service providers? Have police recently reviewed any existing emergency plans they may have? Do they know the staff?

In schools, colleges and universities, are you aware of the person in charge of night school? Many times this person is different than the daytime administrator.

The 2013/2014 school year hopefully won’t be much different than years gone past but there is a new public awareness that anything can happen, any time, any place.

Our children are more vulnerable today than they use to be and we need to pay more attention to their safety than we did in the past. They can face threats from strangers, abduction, bullying, cyber bullying and an increasing number of bizarre and unimaginable things.

Despite diminishing police budgets and more calls for service and preventative programs, this segment of our population has to be become a bigger part of our everyday thinking.

Continue running successful programs and create new ones to stay current with emerging trends and issues. Continuously review, fine-tune and adjust as situations change.

Stay as visible as you can, both inside and outside of schools but also libraries, recreation centres, playgrounds and other places where youth gather.

The goals for this school year are simple – to keep children and young adults safe through their school year.

BIO

John M. Muldoon, APR, FCPRS, LM is the former Toronto District School Board Manager of Communications and Public Affairs (on disability), Peel Regional Police Director of Public Affairs and Marketing and communications supervisor for the former North York Parks and Recreation department. Contact: johnmichaelmuldoon@gmail.com .


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