|Pittsfield Public Schools Undertake Safety, Security Changes
|By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
05:23AM / Friday, January 26, 2024
PITTSFIELD. Mass. — A presentation on emergency and safety practices was made to the school community on Tuesday, showing some changes that have been or will be made in the coming year.
The presentation was done over Zoom and open to the public.
The new systems are designed to improve security and access to security information and material.
The upgrade to the security system started three years ago so it now has interior and exterior cameras in all the schools as well as the buses. Eric Lamoureaux, emergency and safety coordinator, said.
"I think we also should share that those cameras are in the common spaces, hallways of our school buildings, and certainly as you mentioned the exterior. We do not have cameras within the interior of classrooms," Superintendent Joseph Curtis said.
In the next month or two, the district hopes to have implemented its new visitor entry system. The system is through the Navigate360
safety framework. Visitors will have to check in through the system and register online for meetings.
Visitors can also register using an app on their phone or bring a ID, have it scanned and a school sticker badge will be printed for them to wear in the building.
If an ID is not available, then the receptionist can manually sign the visitor as well.
"We are excited to have this just another layer of protection and security so we know who's in our building at what times and everybody is clearly identified with that sticker badge so they go around the building," Lamoureaux said.
A new "duress system" is expected to be in place by the next school year. It was installed at Taconic High during construction and is currently being installed in the other schools.
It's called a "Go-to-Blue System" and is a wireless system that can be remotely activated to quickly put the school in lockdown and notify the Police Department. Visual alarms will also be included in some parts of the building similar to what is on the exterior of the buildings.
Families will be given information when the project is complete.
The district has also recently added a "Safety and Security" tab to its website that contains resources such as policies, school resource officer information, drills and reviews the drills, among other things.
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the roles of school resource officers sid Officer Jessica Godfroy, Pittsfield High's school resource officer.
School resource officers are members of the Police Department and report directly to the Communications. Outreach and Professional Standards (COPS) Bureau commander.
They receive training including the National School Resource Officer base training and "a mandatory two-day training once a year to keep up with different things that are evolving within the schools," Godfroy said.
Students can only be arrested as last resort when at a school-related event or when they are on school property, she said.
"I'm pretty sure that our numbers for arrests are zero for school-related events this year, which is ideal, obviously," she said. "Not to say that it couldn't happen if this situation warranted it, but really just for the understanding, it's important for people to know that our last resort is to charge a juvenile criminally or to especially to arrest them."
The SRO is there to "help and guide and find alternate resources for students versus actually having to use our police powers," she said.
The security and safety tab has where and when the SRO meet-and-greets happen so parents and students can attend and ask any questions they may have.
At the beginning of the year, every school has staff training on emergency drills and reviews them with students so they all know the procedure — where the exits are — and what their roles are in an emergency.
There are drills for a variety of scenarios and are practiced throughout the year. These include four fire drills, as well as exercises on passing, weather, medical emergencies, emergencies, shelter in place, lockdowns and relcoations, Lamoureaux said.
In October they participated in the "Great Shakeout," an earthquake drill.
Every few years, the district reviews its reunification plan and has done a drill with one of its elementary schools and hopes to set that up again at some point. The reunification drill is the only one not "actively practiced yet this year," Lamoureaux said.
The ALICE drill is one of the big topics, Lamoureaux said. The ALICE strategy stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate." It is used as the district's active threat protocols and practiced four times a year.
"They're always announced and advertised the week that they're going to take place so families do know that they can talk to the students about it prior. Staff always know that they're coming so they can prepare students ahead of time [and] make sure that there's no questions or concerns," Lamoureaux said.
"We do work with administrators. school adjustment counselors and other staff in the building that have students that we know might get anxious or nervous. or even some staff so they're well prepared and prepped to understand what to do."
There are always school adjustment counselors or administrators available for anyone who might want to follow up or who have been "escalated during that drill."
Every situation is fluid so the aspects of ALICE are not designed to be sequential.
"We practice these and we've talked about these because we don't want to just sit and wait. We want to be able to act. We want to teach students to be able to act in their best interest depending on every situation that transpires," Lamoureaux said.
He wanted to stress that the district does not do any type of simulation where shots are fired, or people are wearing masks or weapons.
We do not do any of those types of simulations that I know some people are fearful of. And when you do find articles that are against drills like this, many of them talk about the simulation and how that does scare so please know that we do not do that," Lamoureaux said
"I am always the person that walks around the building. I am identified over the intercom or the walkie talkies."
Lamoureaux and the Police Department watch and observe what people do, check doors, see if they can get in anywhere, and see if they see people throughout the drill.
Each room has an emergency bag with supplies in it and 99 percent of staff have handheld radios. The only exception to that is if there are multiple staff members sharing a room, then they all share a radio.
"Officers from [the Police Department], the [school resource officers and] members of the Pittsfield Fire Department are always available to go and talk to schools or classes or grade levels depending on how schools want to set that up and review specifically and go into information about anything that schools would like to do," Lamoureaux said.
They also discussed the district's bulling prevention and reporting procedures.