School Safety Forum

On September 21st, Greenville Central School District hosted a Community Forum about school safety. Superintendent Michael Bennett opened the evening by noting “it is incumbent upon us as a district to help our community understand all that goes into keeping students safe in school.”

Malcolm Toffolo, Manager of Emergency and Threat Assessment Services at Needham Risk Management, joined us as the presenter. Our district contracts with Needham Risk Management to help put together building and district plans to submit to New York State. We also work in conjunction with the Greene County Sheriff and the New York State Police. 

Overall, schools are generally safe places. Acts of violence are rare in schools, however, that’s not to undersell how devastating they can be to students, faculty, staff, and the community. Statistically speaking, students are safer from violence, abuse, fire, poison, and vehicular accidents in school than any other place in the community. Nevertheless, we must be prepared.

So what’s being done at Greenville to keep students safe? 

In 2000, as a direct result of Columbine, New York State enacted the SAVE legislation, an acronym that stands for Safe Schools Against Violence in Education. This legislation took what was once the “wild wild west” in terms of emergency planning, and provided rules and guidance to schools on how to prepare. 

In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security, the New York State Police, and the State Education Department took it a step further and distributed a template to schools to standardize what emergency response processes should look like. The purpose of this was to ensure response efforts are consistent throughout the state, therefore preventing confusion for students, staff, and emergency responders. 

Today, we review, revise, and submit our safety reports online annually to the state, making them easily accessible to police agencies in the event of an emergency. 

At Greenville, we have two types of plans: District-Wide Plans and Building Level Plans. The bulk of the emergency planning occurs at the Building Level. This document contains specific instructions for each emergency response procedure, building plans, information for location-related risks, as well as plans for non-ambulatory students during an emergency. This is a confidential document that is updated and approved annually by the Board of Education. For security purposes, it is never shared digitally. 

School Hardening is a term used to describe the physical security measures we take to keep our students safe. These measures include a visitor management system, lockdown buttons, a comprehensive door lock system, and single entry points. We are also working to install a Blue Light System throughout our campus that will notify people outside the building if an emergency is occurring inside, so they can take the proper steps to remain safe. Malcolm noted that our door lock system is the most comprehensive system in the Greater Capital Region. 

School softening describes the proactive measures we take to prevent emergencies from occurring. Over 80% of people who commit an act of violence tell others before doing so - they present signs and symptoms. This is called “leakage.” Violence is often a help seeking behavior. When we’re able to identify a student in need, we can provide them with the proper help to address their need in the correct manner. Some proactive measures are required by the state, others are only required here at Greenville. 

New York State requires that we complete the following:

  • Annual training on Mental Health, DASA, Emergency Planning, Violence Prevention, Portable Fire Extinguisher, etc. 

  • Annual updates to district-wide and building-level emergency planning. 

  • 8 evacuation drills, 4 lockdown drills, 1 go-home drill

  • Designation of Chief Emergency Officer

It’s important to note that safety is a perishable skill. When we don’t practice and prepare, our safety suffers. That’s why at Greenville, we go above and beyond to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them in an emergency situation. 

In addition to state requirements, we also complete: 

  • SAVE Training annually with all faculty and staff. 

  • More comprehensive SAVE training for administrators. 

  • Annual tabletop exercise performed in conjunction at the school district with other school districts, as well as local LE, fire, and ems. 

  • Threat Assessment Training

  • Annual training for greeters and secretaries on their role, security procedures, and how to remain safe. 

  • Building security walkthroughs conducted with administrators and school safety consultants - training school administrators to look at a building the way that a security processional looks at the building. 

  • Stop-the-bleed training

  • Bus Security Training

  • After School Safety procedures

  • District Wide Safety Survey

  • Monthly District Wide Safety and Health Committee Meetings 

In an emergency situation, safety comes from responding quickly. Ten years ago, the Department of Homeland Security said the average time for an act of school violence was 7-10 minutes. Today, it’s roughly 90-120 seconds. 

Schools aren’t safe because of the bells and whistles we install. They are made safe by the culture we develop, and the community we have. Creating a place free from bullying. A place that students want to be, not have to be. A place with an open line of communication and adults who build relationships with students so those kids know where to go if something makes them uncomfortable. A place where students know that nothing is too small to share. At Greenville, all this falls into our mission of creating a place where everyone learns, teaches, and belongs. 

Thank you to the community members in attendance for your thoughtful questions. The district will be hosting similar forums moving forward surrounding different topics. Knowledge is power.