By Carol Bolden

“Experience our beautiful, safe Christian campus” touts one Adventist school in another conference. It’s a beguiling picture, but safety in school is not a given for anyone these days. “Violence . . . [can] strike at any minute,” says Genevieve LeFranc in her 2013 article, “Social Unrest is Here to Stay.” That violence extends to schools where shootings are occurring almost daily. One school massacre inspires another, which inspires another, ad infinitum.

It would be a mistake to think that Seventh-day Adventist schools will never be affected, when, in fact, they have been, as in the murder by a student of the principal at a Seventh-day Adventist school in Tennessee.*

What are Rocky Mountain Conference schools doing to protect our children?

Through talking to several RMC schools in Wyoming and Colorado, including a four-year academy, a junior academy, and a grade school, I discovered what is being done in the name of safety and found a variety of readiness levels.

Out of the three schools, two have a safety point person and a safety committee. All hold monthly drills for fires and tornados, while two also practice what to do in case of an intruder.

To keep strangers out of its buildings, Mile High Academy (MHA) keeps its doors locked during school hours and monitors common entrances by camera. All visitors are checked in at the office and are required to wear a visitor badge. Staff members stop and question anyone they don’t know who isn’t wearing a badge. Using the Raptor Visitor Management System, which screens everyone who enters the building against a registered sex offender database for all 50 states, MHA screens visitors and maintains accurate records.

Vista Ridge Academy has front-entry cameras and is addressing other areas that might need cameras. Outdoor activity on and around the campus is monitored by camera, giving the school the opportunity to ward off problems. Visitors must sign in when entering the building.

In a small, two-teacher school like Mountain Road Christian Academy in Casper, Wyoming, having a committee made up of school staff is not feasible, but awareness and training do take place. For instance, the school doors are locked during the day and students are taught not to open them for anyone they don’t know.

In the midst of this preparation and practice, it’s important to help the students feel safe. This is what these schools are doing to insure that feeling of security:

Vista Ridge Academy keeps outside doors and class- room doors locked during the school day. Principal Sandy Hodgson is at the front entrance as students arrive in the morning, giving them a sense of security, knowing that someone is in charge and watching out for them. This scene is repeated at the end of the day when Hodgson calls students as their rides arrive. Teachers also stay with their students until they are picked up or sent to extended care. There is little opportunity for anything unusual to happen.

Mile High Academy reviews safety guidelines at the beginning of each school year and schedules regular drills for practice. These guidelines are reviewed whenever there is occasion for a lock-out. Posters around the school remind students of these guidelines and staff talk to students about the Safe2Tell program which provides the opportunity for students to anonymously report threats.

Out of the tragedy that took place at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado, in September 2006, when an intruder killed Emily Keyes, came the “I Love U Guys” safety protocol. MHA uses the guidance this protocol offers to enhance its existing safety plans. It uses action-based responses for any given situation, so when the terms lockout, lockdown, evacuate, or shelter are used during a threat, they hold specific meanings for staff, students, teachers, and first responders.

As part of their preparation, MHA maintains a plastic container with student medications, which can be grabbed at a moment’s notice and often has a bus and driver available to move students away from the campus. Someone on campus knows the location of gas shut-offs, how thick the sheetrock is, whether wooden or metal studs were used in construction, and whether a gas line runs through a wall that they might need to blow a hole through. They also have available sketches of the school’s layout, updated after any remodeling, that responders can use, along with passkeys.

“We have drills regularly at our school for fires, tornados, and lock-out and lock-down drills so that we can be as prepared as possible,” says Brenda Rodie, VP of operations at MHA. “We have done a lockdown drill with Douglas County Sheriff Department and will hold future drills as well.” VRA principal, Sandy Hodgson, says, “We are prepared for various scenarios, but also realize that adaptability is key with any disaster.” Their point person for safety is their maintenance director who “works closely with administration and local safety authorities.”

Preparation for an emergency at VRA includes practice drills with the local police school resource officers who participate and provide recommendations as they continue to improve their plans. “Our resource officers from the Erie Police Department are on campus a minimum of twice a month, conducting walk-throughs and checking in with administration and teachers,” Hodgson explains. “They are part of our safety training and the local fire department also participates in our drills and provides feedback to improve safety.”

Mountain Road Christian Academy principal Traci Pike recently attended active shooter training and is pursuing a plan for the next school year by getting in touch with local law enforcement to ask for staff training and recommendations for emergency protocol. Moving their small student body during an event means loading up teacher vehicles and driving them off campus.

According to Patricia Allison, co-author of a study on private school security, the largest factors in creating a safe environment are school size and low student-to-teacher ratios. “Most private schools are much smaller so you can oversee everything going on within the school at all times,” she says. “It’s harder for safety to be a problem in a small school.”

While this is reassuring, our schools can’t rest on this declaration. It’s encouraging to see that RMC schools are taking the safety of their students seriously.

–Carol Bolden provides editorial support for the RMC communication department. Email her at: [email protected]

* day-adventist/story?id=14283216