Safety First

The Knight Time Staff

In light of the recent events at schools such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the staff of The Knight Times has investigated the safety protocols, researched the improvements made in the building, and interviewed some of the key administrators in an effort to educate and inform the students of Spotsylvania High School.  Ultimately, the goal was to establish a better understanding of what to do in the event of an emergency, like having an intruder on campus, as well as address student concerns about safety in the building.
In interviewing Dr. Hester, the staff found that there are protocols in place to ensure student safety, even if the students are unaware of them.  There is a system in place to notify students, staff, and law enforcement in an emergency, and recent efforts have been made to improve the system.  A decades-long policy of “duck and cover” in a classroom has been overhauled, and new safety training procedures have begun with staff and SROs (school resource officer). 
Another area of concern is how information is sent out.  In today’s instant notification society, school systems have to be cautious in sending out information to parents and students, as it should be verified first.  Also, schools have to be careful not to spread panic, as misinformation – usually through social media – can have unintended negative consequences.  Therefore, Dr. Hester only communicates information that both the school system and law enforcement have vetted to be factual, which can take some time.  The school (and county) communicate via email, phone call, and twitter to ensure that parents are notified of an incident, but that process can take time.  It is better to have facts first, rather than possibly spreading rumors, when it comes to emergency situations.  Misinformation can interfere with police investigations.  If a student has a concern, they should ask a teacher, administrator, or SRO officer for official information, rather than depend on Snapchat or Instagram to determine the legitimacy of a potential safety issue.
The staff of The Knight Times also looked into building improvements to ensure safety.  There are over 26 entries into the building, and it is very difficult to monitor all of them at once.  The county has started taking bids for getting keycard readers for exterior doors, which would prevent outside access from non-staff members.  In the meantime, administration is asking that students and staff not prop doors open, and that students only enter the building through the main entrance.  This can be a real pain, especially with students coming and going to CTC, but it is a step towards overall safety.  Recently, Spotsylvania High also rebuilt the entrance to the front office, so that there is only one point-of-entry into the building.  There was a possibility that metal detectors be installed at the front door, but Dr. Hester pointed out how long a process that can be in the mornings (think of how long it takes to get through security at an airport), and that it could be misconstrued into a violation of student rights.
Another question raised to administrators was the policy of drills and what student expectations are.  Mr. Marchetti, who is the administrator in charge of the school safety committee, has attended several workshops throughout the year to better prepare students and staff in school drills.  He has emphasized that there are a lot of variables – for instance, what happens when a student is in the bathroom during a lockdown drill, or if a lockdown occurs in between classes – and a lot of the staff training this year has been adjusting to these possibilities.  He has mentioned that students in the hallway during a lockdown will be pulled into the nearest area of safety (classroom, office, or other area) and then school administrators and police officers will begin a sweep of the hallways.  He also emphasizes that students should no longer stay in a prone position during a lockdown, lined up against the wall, but should scatter throughout a room.  There are new blockade policies to entryways, and Mr. Marchetti and Deputy Pyktel are constantly analyzing the data from other school systems as to best improve SHS’s drill procedures.
One of the main things that both Deputy Pyktel and Dr. Hester emphasized during interviews is that students can be the eyes and ears of the school.  If something doesn’t look right, say something.  Anonymity will be protected, don’t worry about “snitching.”  If it could possibly save lives, it’s better to say something ahead of time instead of waiting until it is too late.  Also, be a force for change.  As students across the county walked out of class to protest, many were asking for students to “walk up,” as in, walk up to a student who may have been excluded, or bullied, or just need a friendly voice to say “hello.”  Creating an invested student body, one that looks out for its own, is the best way to ensure everyone feels safe.
There are still many concerns from students and staff alike.  How do we create a new sense of safety in the school?  How can we prevent tragedies, like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, from occurring at SHS?  The best answer The Knight Times can give is that the staff and administration are doing everything in their power to prevent something like that from happening, so it is up to the students to do their part as well.  Take the drills seriously.  Talk to someone if you have concerns.  Be proactive in your own safety.  Stay united, Knights.