Last school year, the Superintendent held a series of six safety-listening sessions with district staff. The groups identified their top concerns as:
- Video cameras and secured entry
- Securing doors and corridors for lockdown
- Mental health services and Social Emotional Learning
- Professional development training for staff
“Because there are many aspects to keeping schools safe, there is no one answer or recommended solution,” Dr. Scott Rogers TCSD superintendent. “We are planning on starting with video cameras and secure entry with access control at our elementary schools beginning this summer and continuing into the next. This, along with our other safety and security measures, will be an ongoing process.”
Security cameras have already been installed at all of the District’s junior highs, high schools and many of the elementary schools.
“The present goal is to restrict who is coming into our buildings. We want to create the safest environment we can to protect students and staff,” said Steve West, TCSD Operations director.
As far as helping students stay safe in other ways, the district has licensed school counselors available at each school with multiple counselors at larger secondary schools.
“Not every school district has [counselors at every school],” said Marianne Oborn, TCSD Counseling and Social Services director. “We are fortunate to have a superintendent and school board that support having counselors available to our kids from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Elementary counselors are especially critical in helping students learn to work through their problems in a healthy manner. Secondary school counselors assist with class scheduling and college preparations, but they also provide an emotional support component.”
Oborn added, “Counselors look at students’ overall well-being, not just their academic abilities. They give support to their social and emotional wellness.”
Safe UT app
The district also uses the statewide SafeUT app which provides real-time crisis intervention for students. Using their smartphone, students can call, text, or chat with SafeUT staff regarding a variety of difficulties including emotional crisis, grief and loss, drug and alcohol problems, mental health issues, self-harm and suicidal behavior. Services are available 24/7, free of charge. Licensed therapists at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute respond to all text messages received through the crisis line. The app also allows students to submit confidential tips regarding bullying or threats of school violence.
During the school year, tips geared toward a specific school are also sent to personnel at that school, so they can follow up. If a crisis counselor believes the app user is in immediate danger, the counselor will alert emergency services to attempt a face-to-face safety evaluation based on the information provided by the user. More information about the app can be found at https://healthcare.utah.edu/uni/safe-ut/.
The school district also receives support from Valley Behavioral Health and law enforcement officials to ensure emotional care for students and staff alike.
Safety Threat Training
Employees are being trained via safety-threat simulations. In April, staff from Willow and Grantsville Elementary Schools participated in an active shooter training exercise conducted by the Grantsville City Police at Grantsville Elementary.
The exercise was geared to help faculty and staff practice a coordinated, timely and effective response in the event of a major incident at one of the schools.
Grantsville City Police Chief Jacob Enslen lead the exercise with four of his officers. As part of his presentation, he reviewed the events of the February 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting and explained what school staff could do in a similar circumstance. He trained staff to run, hide and fight in an active shooter scenario. Staff members then practiced lockdown procedures as officers fired multiple blank cartridges from a rifle and a shotgun throughout the hallways. After the all-clear was given, the group reconvened to discuss the experience.
“One of the best things we got out of the drill was a strengthened relationship with Grantsville Police Department,” said GES Principal Jeff Zaleski. “Working with them at our school helped us better understand their preparation and passion for keeping kids safe. They also received a glimpse of what we do on a daily basis to help keep our kids safe.”
Angie Gillette, Willow Elementary Principal agreed with Zaleski adding, “[The exercise] helped strengthen the relationship between our staff members as well. We had the Willow staff members shadow the GES staff members with the same positions to build knowledge and awareness. Some of the teachers gained ideas from each other. I think it helped all of us to be better prepared.
“I think that it also helped our relationship with our community. All of the parent comments we received were positive. I think parents appreciate that we are always trying to be the best prepared for their children's safety that we can be,” said Gillette.
Similar training was conducted last year at Grantsville High School and last November, TCSD school administrators participated in a Table-Top Active Shooter Exercise with Grantsville City Police Chief Jacob Enslen, Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby and Tooele County Sheriff Paul Wimmer along with additional local law enforcement. Afterward, administrators attended a training on the public safety alert system, Alert Sense, and discussed evacuation and reunification of schools with Tooele County Emergency Services Director Bucky Whitehouse.
“An active shooter is the worst-case scenario, but it’s something that is on everyone’s mind,” said Mark Ernst, Grantsville Area director. “This training provided us the opportunity to talk with law enforcement about various active-shooter scenarios and how to best respond if something were to happen.”
The Utah Attorney General’s Office also gave TCSD’s principals the opportunity to participate in virtual reality simulations of an active shooter situation and plans for more safety training are in the works.
Safety Resource Officers
The district was recently able to hire an additional Safety Resource Officer for the upcoming school year. Safety Resource Officers are members of local law enforcement agencies assigned to work inside one or more schools. The district now employs a total of five SROs spread throughout the secondary schools in the Tooele Valley.
SROs work closely with school administrators to assist with safety and crime prevention. The SRO program is organized around the principles of law enforcement, mentoring and teaching.
“They act as a resource or liaison to school-related issues that involve, or could potentially involve a criminal nexus,” said Corporal E. (Cody) Dalton, Tooele City Police Department. “Ideally, the SRO’s efforts help prevent crime in our schools altogether. However, detecting and investigating them is also an important reality of their daily tasks.”
He added, “It is especially important SROs are mindful of the lasting impacts our interactions with students can have. Being relatable in the course of carrying out our duty to enforce the law is a vital part of providing lasting learning opportunities and building trust and rapport for future generations.”
According to Dalton, the primary goal of SROs is to help foster a safe atmosphere within schools. This goal is best achieved through a collaborative team effort involving the “different expertise and unique perspectives” of school administrators, staff, students, parents, and other community resources.
“Our division is currently familiarizing ourselves with, and educating others on, the U.S. Department of Justice’s study of pre-attack behaviors of active shooters in the United States. With the increase of attacks occurring nationwide, it is an easy misconception to believe nothing can feasibly be done to stop a determined active shooter in the future. However, the study found common predictive behaviors that often precede these tragic events. While the study acknowledged the difficult challenge of readily identifying a potential shooter from any one indicator alone, there are many that, when observed together, and appropriately reported, can signal and curb impending violence,” said Dalton.“We are confident these new efforts, integrated with other existing safeguards, will supplement our ultimate goal to cultivate a safe and inviting environment for learning.”
Additional Safety Funding
To continue to expand safety and security measures at schools across the district, as well as provide additional buildings for existing and future student populations, the TCSD Board of Education is proposing a bond referendum this November for $190 million.
With the voter-approved bond, $10 million will go towards security updates to existing buildings and $180 million will be used for the construction of an elementary school in Grantsville City, a junior high in Stansbury Park and a high school in North Tooele. For more information about the proposed bond visit: tiny.cc/TCSDbond