Springfield School District is operating "ahead of the curve," which is definitely good news. The activity to which this statement refers has, however, a proverbial flip side of the coin. SSD is in the forefront of school safety, an area that is not only the "new norm," but the law.
The facts of nationwide school violence events do not need to be detailed for most people, let alone parents and caregivers of school-aged children. With a shocking frequency, they are extensively covered on the news and in commentary. School districts have always been able to make staffing and policy decisions on safety and security, and "school resource officers" have not been uncommon in more urban settings. Today's environment calls for much more thought, planning, and action.
On June 22, 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 44 of 2018 into law, creating a School Safety and Security Committee within PCCD (Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency).The Committee is tasked with developing the criteria school entities are to use in performing school safety and security assessments, issuing a survey to school entities to measure school safety and security preparedness, and administering grants.
The district was months ahead in the thinking process on all elements suggested by Act 44. Renovations and new construction have taken security into account, and the district has always maintained a positive and active relationship with township police.
In May 2018, the school board approved the hiring of Sergeant Michael Vaughan as the Director of School Safety. Vaughan had served for 26 years with the Springfield Police Department (SPD), lived in the district, and was known to the community. That, Vaughan said, was a factor in his decision to take the position.
"I was hired in Springfield in 1992, having been an officer for SEPTA. I got into police work to be in a community. That's why this job was so attractive. I raised three children in Springfield, the youngest is still in the school district," said Vaughan.
Sgt. Vaughan wanted to share information on the entire scope of safety in the schools without a focus on him. But it is fair to say his experience and background are critical, including attending the highly competitive FBI National Academy. Springfield is one of a very few Delaware County school districts with a director as a dedicated position, and not assumed by an administrator with other responsibilities. Through a separate and mandated court hearing, Vaughan is also approved to assume police powers if and when needed.
As Superintendent Barber notes, "The single, greatest topic of discussion in our schools today must center around the safety of our students, staff and families. We are delighted that our School Board has dedicated such attention to this initiative, and we wholeheartedly know that Sergeant Vaughan is absolutely the right person to lead us in this department." Familiar with the schools and procedures through his SPD experience, Vaughan launched into extensive planning for the district's overall safety program starting in May.
"There are guidelines for all staff and students, and we were much ahead of the planning before school started in September. Staff training took place before school opened, and we had a session the first day of high school for students," Vaughan said. "These students were really invested. They know the issue and want information."
The specifics of training are age appropriate and site specific, given that there are five school buildings and four age levels, Vaughan said. The high school and middle school students are directed what to do and how to make decisions. The elementary schools students are trained to listen and follow directions given by teachers and other staff.
Vaughan quickly referenced a meeting for parents and all other interested community members scheduled for 7 pm, Monday, October 8th at E. T. Richardson Middle School.
"It's important that all stakeholders be trained as to why we are doing what we are doing. Among other things, we will go over some of the changes made in our crisis plan."
One element to be discussed is a change in what was assumed standard procedure. Vaughan said "lock down" as an immediate course of action has been replaced by "run, hide and fight." Vaughan said this has been studied and adopted by the Dept. of Homeland Security. In addition to advance planning, Vaughan said a big part of training for staff is to "think like a first responder. You can't wait to react when something happens. You have to think about strategy ahead of time. It is a change of mindset."
This advisory—very likely a prudent tactic for everyone—is awareness of one's surroundings. The "see something, say something" approach is widespread in virtually every environment and far reaching, Vaughan said. It extends to students who may notice, hear, or see unusual and troublesome signs by a peer. Since the majority of school violence is perpetrated by a student or former student, awareness is essential.
"Everybody is responsible to identify a problem since there are always warning signs. You are not being a snitch. If you see something on social media or anywhere, report it right away," said Vaughan.
School safety is hardly a new concept, but it has taken on a more evident, transparent and collaborative role with schools. The district will continue to study and refine all strategies and plans, only a few of which are kept in confidence for even added security. Vaughan said the response of staff and students has been "fantastic." He is always accessible and is used to getting emails and messages weekends and nights as some parent or teacher may start out by saying "I was just thinking...."
If thinking leads to information, Vaughan hopes the community will start with the October 8th meeting.
-Susan L. Serbin