Last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida has pushed the safety of our children to the forefront of local, state, and national attention. As we struggle to make sense of another senseless act of violence in a public school we’re left to ask unanswerable questions such as “why?” and “what can be done that will keep our students safe?” As the Superintendent of Schools and as a parent of children in Worthington – I sincerely wish we lived in a society where we didn’t have to be concerned about safety.
In Worthington, we have worked diligently to prepare our schools, our staff members, and even our students should we ever experience a senseless act. Several years ago all Worthington Schools were modified to include secure entrances and to make sure the perimeter of every school is locked throughout the student day. Our staff members have all been trained in the ALICE (run-hide-fight) incident response system and our staff members have worked with students to respond in a similar fashion should it ever be necessary. For each school, we have established “rally points” where students would go should such an event occur.
Every school principal in Worthington Schools carries a walkie-talkie. By simply changing the channel they have direct access to the Worthington Police dispatcher which can immediately send police to the school. In addition, every school office is equipped with a panic button that goes directly to 911. Finally, Worthington has a safe schools hotline (1-866-871-0926) where students, parents or community members can anonymously leave tips should they suspect an act of potential violence.
School safety in Worthington is a three-pronged approach. Secure buildings and strong plans with accompanying training are important, but we recognize that many events are triggered by mental health issues or by feelings of isolation. Our third prong of school safety is attempting to help our students deal with their mental health needs. In Worthington, we employ three full-time mental health specialists that work with our students as well as a partnership for therapeutic counseling services where we refer students and families to North Community Counseling.
Most importantly, our staff members are committed to providing school cultures where every student knows they have a trusted adult in their school that cares about them and believes in them. “See Something, Say Something” is more than a slogan. Our students and staff are comfortable talking with one another and it’s students who will most likely be best positioned to alert our staff of potential safety concerns.
In Worthington, the safety of our students and staff is our primary concern. We’re attempting to be vigilant every day and we need every community member to partner with us. There are immediate actions each of us can do to be part of the overall effort.
- Listen to the young people in your life. Take the time to engage in active conversations. With teenagers specifically, this can sometimes be a challenge. It requires time. As a family, put away the devices at dinner and listen to what’s taking place. Speak with your children about “See Something, Say Something” and encourage them to reach out if they know someone who needs help.
- Log into your child’s social media accounts, photo stream, and text messages. Your children have no expectation of privacy from their parents – be proactive and make it a priority. In almost every tragedy, there were warning signs. Follow your children’s posts and sign-up for alerts. Follow your children’s friends . . . intentionally know what is happening in their lives.
- If something bothers you, if your gut tells you something is wrong, step-up and do something. Don’t let yourself be talked into a narrative of inaction. If you have knowledge of a specific threat, call the police.
- Finally, if you have concerns about someone else’s child, call them. I know it is uncomfortable; we all know that no one wants to hear bad news. But ask yourself one question, “if someone has concerns about my child’s safety and health, would I want to know?” If you have concerns, make the call. It could save a life.
In Worthington, we’re committed to making our schools ever safer. As Superintendent, I wish there was a single answer that would make schools safe. We can’t ignore what happened in Florida. This tragedy has started a dialogue that is broad and sustained. It has caused us to review many of the safety measures we have in place and explore other opportunities for growth and new ways to support our kids physically and emotionally.
As we continue to evaluate and improve our plans and our facilities, we’re open to your thoughts and your ideas about safety. Assistant Superintendent, Randy Banks, leads our school safety initiatives. You can reach Mr. Banks at email@example.com. In Worthington, we want every child to feel safe and comfortable at school. If your child has concerns or feels unsafe, please contact any member of our school district staff to discuss these concerns.
- Trent Bowers, Superintendent
Safe Schools Hotline: 1 (866) 871-0926