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School superintendent speaks about school safety

    Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans,  recently asked principals and school leaders to participate in Integrated Multilayered Planning for Active Shooter Events (IMPASE) workshops conducted by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. The goal of these workshops was to bolster emergency, safety and security preparedness on school campuses.
    ➤ How did this training come about? Our schools have always had crisis management plans, encompassing such measures as lock-ins and tornado and fire drills, and they are revised every year. After the (Newtown) Connecticut tragedy, (archdiocesan) schools were asking what more they could do to make their schools as safe as possible. So the Office of Catholic Schools and the Safe Environment Office began looking for resources we could utilize to help them prepare. We found that the IMPASE program does just that.
    ➤ Why did you decide to do it? IMPASE shows how to make school campuses as safe as possible. The training is two-fold: the four-hour sessions in March gave an overview to get administrators looking at their individual campuses to make sure they are as safe as possible. It made them think what they would do if something (such as an active shooter coming on campus) does happen. What can a school do to prepare for that? Were measures put in place to make sure someone can’t get in a school? Was coordination done in advance with emergency responders? Do these first responders have a current campus layout on hand and a point person on campus to talk with? Are your parents prepared and made aware of emergency plans and what to do? And, then there is a follow up this summer.
    ➤ What is special about this training? The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s office developed this after Columbine (the high school shootings in Colorado) when it was clear that whole mindset (of how to deal with emergency situations on school campuses) had changed. Schools could no longer wait until first responders got there. Emergency responders had to start thinking about what schools could do to ensure as minimal a tragedy as possible. What could schools have in place? Sheriff Greg Champagne had to alter his whole way of thinking.
    ➤ What did administrators gain from this training? I think it empowered administrators to go back and look at their individual campuses and talk to school boards, teachers, pastors, parents – all the stakeholders – and let them know areas that might be more vulnerable than other areas. The idea is to make their schools as safe as possible. It was important to get schools talking about all the components in an emergency situation. Schools are working with first responders to send them copies of their school plant plan and to make sure each classroom and room is marked clearly (to make it clear for responders).
    ➤ What did the training encompass? The first training in March was an overview. A two-day, follow-up session in the summer will teach how to set it up at the schools. After that, there will be an active-shooter drill Oct. 11 conducted by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies at St. Charles Borromeo School in Destrehan. It is a true drill in every sense of the word, with helicopters, actors playing the roles of students and administrators and parents.
    ➤ Is there one safety plan for all schools? Our campus configurations are all so different. We are conducting a site survey – since our school campuses are so varied – that talks about what each campus can do for maximum security depending on its configuration (checking locks on doors, windows, etc.). Each school submits its plan to our office annually to show what it has in place to make the school safe.
    ➤ Why did you think it necessary to participate in this training? The goal of all of this is to look at each plan, reflect on the plan, revise our plan, run it by the stakeholders and revise it again. It needs to be a fluid process, so as new knowledge is available, we incorporate it. It is a plan that we constantly revisit and make modifications to as we see fit to ensure the safety of our students.
    ➤ How good of a job do we do as a school system to keep children safe? I think our schools for years and years have kept kids safe. Our administrators have always looked at the safety of the students and what that means and what it looks like. We’re all working together for the benefit of the kids. Archbishop Gregory Aymond is so dedicated to Catholic education, and he’s the one who said we need to constantly revisit what our schools are doing to make sure the safety of the kids comes first.
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