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North Platte Schools host safety summit

May 25, 2019 GMT

North Platte Public Schools have seen a lot of changes — all to keep students safe. School personnel, law enforcement officials and community professionals met for a safety summit on Friday to discuss what has been done and to consider what do to next.

Superintendent Ron Hansen said the buildings, doors, windows, bus routes, procedures — everything — is being looked at with safety in mind.

Mental health of students is another motivation.

Students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades all across the state participate in an anonymous Nebraska Risk and Protective Factor Student Survey on even numbered years. Brandy Buscher, school student service coordinator, said the survey shows a trend, even at the sixth grade level, toward more depression and thoughts of suicide.

The school district now partners with Region 2 Human Services and professional therapists to provide student support services. Buscher said that over the next year staff will be trained in trauma-informed care. The training will help them understand the interaction between a student’s background and current behavior and to respond appropriately.

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Buscher said bullying reports from parents and others are fully assessed by school principals. She said the school has instituted an effective threat assessment tool in used by schools in Jefferson County, Colorado. Responses can include home visits with parents and students. In some cases, students need professional rehabilitation services, she said.

Students are now prohibited from video recording each other at school, Hanson said. That has reduced the number of fights, particularly at the high school. Students were recording the fights and posting them on social media, he said.

Access to school buildings is a major focus of changes. In the last year the district began requiring visitors to present government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s licenses. That is coupled with a system the allows administration to check the background of each visitor and also to know who is in the school at any time. High-risk students who have been suspended from school and return to the building, are carefully monitored.

School resource officer Jeremiah Johnson said all schools now have only one entrance, which is not just to keep intruders out. Loud alarms at all other exterior doors at the high school have reduced the problem of students skipping classes, he said.

Keeping track of school entry keys is difficult, Hanson said, but a challenge that is being eliminated. Most of the schools have switched to keyless entrances. Doors at Eisenhower and McDonald Elementary Schools and McKinley Education Center will be changed this summer. An individual’s key card can be turned off easily, if necessary. Ventilation systems are also being upgraded to keep buildings comfortable while keeping windows closed.

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More security cameras are being installed. Recently cameras were placed in the playground at Buffalo School; drug paraphernalia has been found on the playground, Johnson said. The 911 emergency dispatch center in North Platte has access at all times to images from the schools security cameras, he said.

Hansen said this is the second year for the safety summit.

A safety steering committee was formed after last year’s summit. It is comprised of school administrators, nurses, other staff, parents, local law enforcement, emergency management and mental health professionals. The group meets monthly at a different school building in the district each time, to ensure that district-wide situations and needs are addressed.

There are a lot of other changes and the school will continue to work to ensure a safe learning environment, Hansen said.

“We do take safety very seriously.”