Student safety and school security are priorities for the Lower Merion School District. In the years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, the District has enhanced its security measures – including staffing, facility-planning and related equipment and mental health resources. District staff, in partnership with local and regional authorities, continue to review those measures regularly. These internal reviews have been augmented by the creation of the School Safety Task Force, which is described below. This update summarizes and highlights work that has been done and work that is being considered in the name of school safety.
Background of the School Safety Task Force:
The 2018 School Safety Task Force (SSTF), chaired by Superintendent Robert Copeland and Bala Cynwyd Middle School Assistant Principal Jeff Hunter, was formed following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. Its mission was to revisit the report of the 2013 Lower Merion School District SSTF, with a specific focus on current best practices concerning active school shooters.
The Task Force included five District parent/guardians, nine members of the LMSD staff and administration (some of whom are also District parents), three members of the Board of School Directors and four Township and County emergency response agency representatives.
Timeline of the Work of the SSTF:
- March 2018 – Task Force members reviewed the previous SSTF report and read the NPR article "How to Prevent the Next School Shooting."
- April 3, 2018 – First SSTF meeting. Members introduced themselves and reviewed the readings. "Why Kids Kill" by LM alumnus Dr. Peter Langman was distributed to be read.
- April 24, 2018 – Dr. Langman was the presenter. He reviewed information from his book and shared additional information from his website (www.schoolshooters.info) about the profiles of school shooters (psychopathic, psychotic and traumatized). He dispelled some common myths about the shooters and shootings and reiterated that data shows schools are the safest places for students to be.
- May 8, 2018 -- Presentation from Capt. Frank Thomas, Lower Merion Police Department on "Left of Bang," "Run, Hide, Fight" and how emergency response to active shooter situations has changed since Columbine. SSTF members then filled out questionnaires where they shared ideas on next steps, in light of the various speakers' presentations.
- May 24, 2018 – The SSTF heard presentations from eight District staff members on Student Services and Supports along with an Operational update. These presentations shared the roles of school counselors, psychologists, social workers and the various risk assessment measures and services provided to help students. The SSTF then filled out questionnaires with operational and student services recommendations.
- June 12, 2018 – The SSTF broke into three smaller groups to review the preliminary recommendations and prioritize them. The results of these discussions were shared with the entire group to be presented to the Board of School Directors as recommendations for implementation.
Recommendations/Actions of the SSTF:
SSTF Concern: The SSTF committee agreed that the District needed to provide an anonymous and accessible avenue for students, parents, and community members to provide support for someone who is in need or to report suspicious behavior.
- Response: Anonymous Reporting – after researching a variety of options, the District is recommending "Speak Up," an anonymous reporting tip line that with a trained person answering calls 24/7. Our District will have a dedicated phone number, which will be publicized to all students.
SSTF Concern: Research has shown that student active shooters have posted warnings and plans to social media prior to taking action.
- Response: Social Media Monitoring – the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit has partnered with "Social Sentinel," a service that monitors social media and uses algorithms to identify threatening posts and potentially connect them back to students. Through the MCIU, the District is considering a one-year pilot of this program to determine if the information generated is useful.
SSTF Concern: Increasing security presence in all buildings across the District.
- Response: Additional Security Personnel – The SSTF considered adding either armed or unarmed security guards. The recommendation would be to look at hiring unarmed security guards. The guards would be tasked with monitoring the main entrances of buildings, including allowing initial access, checking identification, and registering visitors prior to entrance. Additionally, they would monitor hallways and building access points via video cameras throughout the day. Implementation would require some building modifications to provide a guard area with video monitors. They will not interact with students as Campus Aides at the middle and high schools do.
Other Recent Safety & Security Enhancements:
- Run Hide Fight Training – All District Staff have been trained in the LMPD's preferred active-shooter protocol, "Run Hide Fight." This training helps staff make appropriate decisions to protect their safety and that of their students. The preferred option is to get away from an active shooter. If that's not possible, the next option is to hide – including locking down classrooms, covering windows, etc. The final option, if the other two are not possible, is to fight the shooter, using any means available to disrupt or incapacitate him/her.
- Installation of Nightlocks® -- These locks can be used quickly inside of classrooms to secure doors, so that even if the window glass is broken and the door handle accessed, the doors won't open. The District applied for and was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Pa. School Safety and Security Committee of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to purchase these.
- Phone Upgrades – "All Call" capability has been added to all classroom phones, so that staff can make all-building announcements from any room. In addition, buildings with extremely poor cell service have been identified and will receive signal-boosting antennas.
- Additional Police Collaboration – LMPD have been provided with badges that allow them access to buildings in an emergency, without having to be buzzed in. In addition, LMPD is observing and offering feedback on emergency drills. Additional drills are scheduled during this school year. The District Emergency Operations Plan is being reviewed to ensure alignment with policies and procedures from FEMA, State/County and PREPaRE Models.
- Stop the Bleed Kits – In consultation with Narberth Ambulance, the District has purchased Stop the Bleed kits for all school buildings.
- A number of recommendations have already been implemented. These include the ongoing installation of the Nightlocks®, phone upgrades, Run Hide Fight training and Stop the Bleed Kits.
- District staff is continuing to work on others – such as getting RFPs from companies that provide security guards, getting pricing/contracts from the tip line and social monitoring companies and proposing any necessary Policy changes prior to implementation.
- Once that due diligence is completed, the Board will vote on implementation of those recommendations.