RCPS Administrator Rita Bishop
Student safety is a priority “no ifs, no ands, no buts” said Roanoke’s City School Superintendent Rita Bishop at a joint meeting with city council and the school board Monday. The heightened awareness of school safety is foremost in all U.S. school system since the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 26.
Ken Trump, a national consultant, speaker, author and expert on K-12 school safety, school security, preparedness and crisis planning came to Roanoke City schools in 2008 said Bishop. The funds for Trump’s consultation was obtained through a grant. “All of our safety procedures have been reviewed by Mr. Trump.” His staff even includes former members of the U.S. Secret Service she said.
There is security in place that Bishop couldn’t talk about for safety reasons. “My safety plan is in my top right-hand drawer,” said Bishop. “It is reviewed all the time.”
A safety plan is in every classroom explained School Board member Lori Vaught. First responders can access the plans online from their vehicles. Doors are number and maps of the school are available to them.
Virginia requires the school board to review their preparedness plans every year. All Roanoke city schools except the two high schools have a buzz in system with a camera. The systems have been in place for some time where other localities are just catching up said Vaught. The two newer high schools were built with safety in mind. They have one entrance and exit point that is monitored.
Mr. Trump has provided excellent safety procedures said Vaught. “We’ve been thinking about this for a long time.” Councilwoman Anita Price added that the procedures are practiced frequently within individual classrooms. Price pointed to a safety survey that concluded that students overwhelmingly feel relatively safe in their school. She attributed that to putting plans into practice and not just having them sit on a shelf.
What concerned councilman Sherman Lea was threats from within the school including threats from students. School Board Chairman David Carson said that inside threats are always problematic. “Having excellent teachers and excellent leadership that is constant … helps build rapport.” When a student hears or sees something suspicious they feel comfortable talking to staff. “There have been instances where things have been prevented,” said Carson.
Bishop added as far as internal conflicts they do a lot of “de-escalation training” to keep things at the discussion stage. “It’s amazing what kids will tell us,” said Bishop. “They know it is confidential … something will be done and they know you are not a snitch.”
Mayor Bowers lamented over society becoming “locked up” and bemoaned the suggestion that there might be gun-toting teachers in every school in America. Bishop called it “an absolute folly having a bunch of armed teachers around – where would a teacher really put a gun not accessible to children. That to me is just a terrifying thought.”
“You can’t stop it totally,” said Bishop, “all you can do is try to get the communication going well.” The increased presence of police was a suggestion but that is costly she said.
Councilman Court Rosen hoped that it would not become a gun rights issue. “It’s more of a public safety issue,” he said. He pointed to Roanoke’s congressional representative, Bob Goodlatte. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “Any piece of legislation that has to do with guns or weapons goes through him.” Councilman Sherman Lea said he was not too encouraged by that.
Year around school has been tossed around in the General Assembly but Carson explained that their request for starting the school year prior to Labor Day and year around schools were two separate issues. It is still the same number of school days spread out through 12 months – 45 days of school then a 15 day break. “Frankly that’s an educational disaster,” said Bishop.
The 15 day break would be detrimental to learning retention – time would have to be dedicated to catch-up when students returned. Bishop, however, is very much in favor of increasing the school year beyond 180 days. “We do need expanded opportunities that we don’t refer to as summer school … I am a huge proponent to going an additional six weeks … it provides a great deal of stability for students.”
Carson pointed to the touted successes of private and charter schools. “What it involves is a longer school day – kids going in at 7:00 a.m. and in class until 5:00 p.m. … I think to myself if you (the general public) want to fund us … we could do pretty well too.”