From preschools to universities across the country, institutions are constantly reviewing safety procedures. Spokane schools are no exception.
At Gonzaga, Taylor Jordan, coordinator of Gonzaga’s Behavioral Intervention Team, explains that in response to school shootings, GU views safety procedure revision as an ongoing process.
“We’ve been pretty active, especially in looking at events, and I also stay up to date on any threat assessment literature comes out just to see as this field becomes more prevalent ... Then see what the best practices are,” Jordan said.
Scott Snider, director of Campus Security and Public Safety, appreciates GU’s preventative, rather than simply reactive, approach to security.
“I think we are really proactive in a lot of other areas to create a climate where we reduce the risk of violence from within our community,” Snider said.
On a wider spectrum Spokane Public School District 81 (SPS) is also making efforts toward increased safety. SPS “is a leader amongst other districts who continually call us to review their programs,” Mark Sterk, director of Safety, Risk Management and Transportation for the district, said in a phone interview.
Over the past decade, resource officers and members of Sterk’s department have been contacting schools that have suffered mass shootings to gain a better understanding of how school security can be revised. Specifically, Sterk has contacted Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut and Marysville Pilchuck High School, in Marysville, Washington.
By critically analyzing the incidents, Sterk says, he and his team learn what systems are most effective in schools. Sterk, once was Spokane County Sheriff, says he was very impressed by SPS’s proactive nature when he first started.
“We don’t wait for a school shooting to happen to implement new things,” he said.
SPS shows no signs of slowing down with security developments. The 1,800 security cameras located across campuses are just a fraction of all the measures SPS takes to increase security.
For the past three years, the district funded the creation of single-point entrances in all their schools. Through this system, visitors must be approved at the front door and once buzzed in must show identification and receive a guest pass by the staff. Last December, the district completed the project, “which leaves more time for our new developments,” says Sterk.
Currently, students can enter through the front door during school hours, but all others are locked, due to the single-point entrance system. Soon, all classroom doors of SPS schools will be locked during the day, so students must request access to leave class.
For now, SPS focuses on replacing the window on classroom doors with a stronger glass that cannot shatter. Although it is not bullet proof, Sterk says the glass will give students and teachers more time to seek shelter since the intruder will have difficulty breaking through the glass.
Two years ago, SPS developed a Threat Assessment Protocol team composed of Sterk, the director of high school student and mental health services, the campus resource officer supervisor, school principals and others.
In each case, a resource officer will investigate, a police officer will check for weapons in the home, and a mental health professional will assess the individual to determine possible risks. According to Sterk, since September, the Threat Assessment Protocol Team has investigated 60 cases.
GU’s own threat assessment team is formally called the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT). Jordan says that teams like these are now commonplace across campuses. “Their creation came after the Virginia Tech shooting and it’s basically a more improved way to prevent physical violence while before there weren’t a lot of formalized processes,” Jordan says.
To prevent profiling, Jordan and her team look at changes in behaviors over time.
Sterk admires the Salem-Keizer School District’s security model and hopes to adapt some of its policies in the upcoming years. In May, Sterk and other members of the safety, risk management, and transportation department will travel to Salem, or to learn about the district’s model. In September, SPS employees will be introduced to the curriculum and complete a training course.
Lily Morehouse is a contributor.