Is my child safe at school?
National statistics continue to show that children are much more likely to be victims of violence in their own home or neighborhood than in school. But when shootings or other violent episodes do occur in schools around the country, parents can’t help but wonder “Is my school doing enough to protect kids?”
And the truth is that BH-BL staff ask themselves the same question all the time: Are we doing enough? Have we hit the right balance between having schools that are open, friendly places to learn and having schools that are safe?
More than ever before, safety is an underlying theme in everything schools do. The past decade has seen a number of new state and federal safety mandates, plus higher parental expectations regarding safety. We often revisit and evaluate our responsibility as a school district to continue, in earnest, our efforts to foster a safe and nurturing environment for our students, our staff, and even our community. This not only includes the physical safety and security measures we practice on a daily basis but also the social-emotional connections our educators make every day with our student body.
One of the pillars of the district’s multi-pronged safety plan is building relationships and becoming trusted confidants with the student body to help students feel welcomed and accepted in our schools and community. Through a variety of opportunities, such as classes, clubs, teams, school assemblies, etc., we work with students demonstrating what acceptance, diversity, and tolerance look like. We support them in their efforts and encourage them to become positive role models, supportive peers, and responsible citizens.
Our district’s safety plan becomes stronger and more effective with parental involvement and support. Please see below to learn more about the district’s safety plan.
BH-BL Safety Measures
- Our schools have undergone many physical and technological changes that now include secure entry vestibules, increased use of surveillance technology, improved signage, and the hiring of additional school security officers and/or monitors. Guided by the advice of security experts and developing best-practice in the field, we continue to enhance the safety features of our facilities. We appreciate the fact that our parents and residents abide by the safety identification protocols we have in place at our building entrances. While at times these steps may seem like an inconvenience, understanding their importance in modern-day school safety procedures is also appreciated. Staff and students continue to participate in regular drills for lockdowns, lockouts, and evacuations throughout the school year. These drills are often run in cooperation with local law enforcement.
- Our staff also receive frequent training on how to respond in the event of an emergency and the steps they need to take to keep students safe. We ask that you talk to your children about the importance of these drills and why it is critical that they take them seriously.
- We work closely with School Resource Office, Deputy Sheriff Cicardi, who is at the district full time. We also have built strong relationships with local and state law enforcement and emergency responders through regular communication and collaboration. Our district interfaces regularly with multiple law enforcement agencies including the New York State Police, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, and the Glenville Police Department. Both Sheriff Zurlo of Saratoga County and Chief Janek of Glenville are very active and involved in keeping our schools safe. We have daily visits from both departments. The officers get to know students as they walk the halls and visit cafeterias. They are available 24/7 to Director Poitier, our principals and central office staff when the need to address an emergency situation arises. They teach D.A.R.E. classes in our elementary schools. They provide all students and staff across the district with instruction on proper emergency response procedures. They serve on our Health and Safety committee and our Building Safety teams to help us develop and maintain our official District Safety Plan. The public version of our safety plan can be found on our website. We encourage you to support our local law enforcement partners and applaud the proactive role they are playing in our schools.
- Our school leaders and staff continue to build relationships and become trusted confidants with our student body. The most important thing we can do to have safe and peaceful schools is to build strong connections with our students. We work hard to get to know each of our kids and to look for specific solutions and structures to help them with their problems. Our school social workers, counselors, psychologists, and administrators are always available to meet with students should they ever need someone to talk to, need to express concerns, or are just having a bad day and need a place to decompress. We have a variety of classes and programs for students with more significant social-emotional needs. We have many teams, clubs, events, and activities designed to help students become more involved in their school and community. Regardless of our best efforts, there are times when individuals say or do things online or in the community that that raise concerns for their safety and/or the safety of others. This is where the “see something, say something” advice holds true and becomes crucial. If you or your child ever has concerns about an individual’s potential threat to others or to themselves, please immediately report those concerns to school administrators.
Here’s a list of many other things we do at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake to ensure the safety of students and staff.
- The district Safety Committee meets monthly to evaluate all aspects of school life that relate to safety. Whether the concern is air quality, construction safety, playground safety, or preparing for a flu epidemic, having a committee of teachers, parents, custodians and other staff take a comprehensive look at these issues together has been very beneficial. Several of the improvements listed below grew out of Safety Committee recommendations.
- School staff wear photo ID badges daily, and under state law, all new staff (even substitutes) are fingerprinted and checked for criminal records, particularly any record of child abuse.
- During the school day, exterior doors are kept locked from the outside except for the main school entrance. All substitutes, volunteers and visitors entering the building must sign in and wear a temporary ID badge during school hours.
- School entrances have been renovated to improve staff members’ view of those entering their building and nearly all now have security vestibules. Our schools also have security cameras at their entrance or other specific area. The high school has hall monitors who sign in visitors. The high school employs security monitors with law enforcement experience who help supervise entrances, hallways, parking lots and sporting events.
- Parking lot improvements for greater safety have included adding speed bumps, better lighting, and security cameras. At Charlton Heights the parking lot was completely redesigned to separate bus and car traffic for safety.
- High school pupils who drive in an unsafe manner at school have their parking privileges taken away. Students who commit vandalism are made to pay for repairs to the school property they damaged. Teens who break the law at school are turned over to the police. This kind of firm response to illegal or unsafe behavior is a deterrent that sends a strong message to our students.
- All students receive a copy of their school’s Student Handbook, which includes a Code of Conduct spelling out rules for appropriate behavior and the consequences of inappropriate behavior. (Note: for online copies of these, click on the specific school, then Student Handbook.)
- Every 11 months, the fire marshal and buildings and grounds supervisor perform a detailed room-by-room inspection of all schools and other district buildings for hazards. Their reports are shared with custodians, principals and the Board of Education, and any needed corrective actions are taken.
- Protecting students’ health and safety is what our five school nurses do all day. For instance, procedures to safeguard children with life-threatening allergies were updated with help from parents.
- BH-BL bus routes are written to reduce the number of children who must cross a road to enter or exit a bus. This is just one detail in the Transportation Department’s comprehensive emphasis on safety. Other examples of bus safety practices are listed in the district calendar and at BH-BL Bus Policies.
- As required by law, school computers use filtering software that protects pupils from inappropriate online material.
- Starting in elementary school, pupils are taught how to keep their bodies healthy and how to say “no” to drugs, smoking and other unsafe (though sometimes popular) behaviors.
- Teachers and teacher assistants receive training in how to recognize troubled pupils or those who may be at risk. Each school has a social worker and a Pupil Assistance Team to coordinate help for such pupils. Both secondary schools are working in particular to reduce their number of “disengaged” students by helping these students form a strong and healthy connection with at least one adult at school. This is a key strategy for avoiding both school drop-outs and school violence.
- As required by law, students have 8 fire drills a year and 4 lock-down (everyone goes into the nearest room, locks the door and waits for further instructions on the public address system) drills a year. The latter would be used to move everyone out of harm’s way while a suspected threat inside the building (such as from an intruder) was evaluated. They also practice situations called a school “lock-out” (no one may enter or leave the building but classes go on as usual indoors). They also practice situations called a school “lock-out” (no one may enter or leave the building but classes go on as usual indoors).
- School staff use and practice the same Incident Command System of crisis management that is used by police and fire officials for better communication and cooperation during an emergency. We also follow the safety and security recommendations of the State Education Department related to federal Homeland Security Alert Levels.
- BH-BL staff receive advice, training and safety updates from the Capital Region BOCES Risk Management Service. Thanks to the speed of email and the BOCES concept of local school districts working together on shared needs, BH-BL administrators are often informed about possible safety threats before these threats become public knowledge, which enables us to be better prepared.
- Copies of the Safety Data Sheets for all potentially hazardous substances used in each school can be viewed by contacting the school principal. Also available for public perusal in the district business office are the district’s emergency preparedness plan, asbestos management plan, annual fire inspection reports, and the results of testing for radon in the air and lead in the water.
Most importantly, our schools work hard to create an atmosphere in which everyone is responsible for safety and everyone will be listened to.
No one wants schools that feel like a prison, but students and parents and all staff need to be safety conscious and to speak up whenever they spot a potential hazard. Continuing this dialogue can help us stay safe as our community grows and our society changes in future years.
As headlines about school shootings or other violence on occasion remind us, we really are all in this together.