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Posted: February 21, 2013 1:27 p.m.

NCSS upgrades school safety measures

Using information learned from recent local and national school emergencies, Newton County School System (NCSS) is in the process of updating school safety measures across the district. Newton County School System’s Safety Committee has been hard at work preparing for and training others to react to a wide variety of potential emergencies including carbon monoxide leaks, severe inclement weather, and building intruders.

“The safety of our students is our district’s primary concern,” said Gary Mathews, Superintendent for Newton County Schools. “Learning cannot take place if students and faculty do not feel safe at school. We are dedicated to providing the safest schools possible in Newton County.”

Jan Loomans, NCSS Director of Operational Services and chair of the district’s safety committee, said her fellow committee members have been conducting meetings and analyzing the district’s safety measures and noting areas that can be improved.

“Throughout the school year we have done walk-throughs at schools and have been noting what we can do to increase our safety measures,” Loomans explained. “We also had the opportunity to review lessons learned from other recent local and national school emergencies. We are well aware that a carbon monoxide leak, a severe weather incident or even a school shooting can happen right here in Newton County. We’re not immune. We need to be prepared in the event a crisis occurs.”

In fact, Loomans has placed such an emphasis on school safety that when a recent position became available in her department, she converted it from a maintenance worker position to an energy and safety specialist.

“Now we will have someone who is monitoring our school safety all the time as part of his job,” said Loomans.  “That will be his primary focus.”

In addition to hiring the new safety specialist, Loomans noted that NCSS, once obtaining school board approval, will purchase carbon monoxide detectors for every school in the district. To help schools prepare for sudden, severe weather crises, new up-to-date weather radios are also in the works for each elementary, middle, and high school in the district.  Loomans added that each school will also soon receive a school evacuation kit that is to be kept current with important information and removed from the school for use every time a building is evacuated. The kits will be used as portable command centers in the event of a school emergency.

In light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Loomans said the safety committee has also worked with administrative staff at each of the schools to conduct mandatory intruder drills with students. In addition, a county-wide school intruder drill with Newton County public safety officials was held during the Christmas break and again during the recent February winter break. More are planned for the future. And Newton County law enforcement have added increased patrols to our district’s elementary schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“Practice is key,” said Loomans. “We need to conduct various drills such as fire, tornado and intruder on a regular basis in our schools so students and staff know how to react if a crisis were to happen. There is no way we can be 100 percent prepared, as each crisis will be different, but the more we practice and plan the better we will be.”

In addition to practicing drills, Loomans said additional measures have and will be implemented to increase safety at the schools. Those schools without the computer operated security door systems that have been in place since the construction of Rocky Plains and subsequent schools will soon be outfitted with this security feature.

“We’re doing all we can to make sure our students are safe,” said Loomans, who noted that parents also play an important role. “They also need to know what to do in the event of a school emergency. So we recently worked with our public relations department to create a school brochure to educate parents on how they should respond and what they can expect us to do in the event an emergency takes place at school. Those brochures recently went home with every student in the district and the information is also posted on our school district website.”

"I am most appreciative of the work of our NCSS Safety Committee,” said Dr. Mathews.  “We cannot be too prepared for unforeseen circumstances."

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