Weekly Feature

2016-09-28 / Education

Amherst Schools adopt response plans

by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

If there ever is a major emergency in the Amherst Central School District, everyone in the district should be ready.

At the Sept. 20 meeting, the Amherst School Board adopted a districtwide school safety plan as well as a building-level emergency response plan for each district building.

Michael Belle-Isle, the district’s director of human resources, said due to the importance of school preparedness in an emergency, the New York State School Safety Improvement Team recommended statutory amendments to improve the scope of emergency response planning.

The amendments include: developing policies and procedures to contact parents or guardians in the event of an implied or direct threat of violence, including the threat of suicide; annual training for staff on the building emergency response plan that must include components on violence prevention and mental health; a designation of a chief emergency officer (Belle-Isle); policies and procedures for responses to emergency situations; and creation of consistent language.

Belle-Isle said the district will conduct 12 drills — four lockdown and eight evacuation drills — each year. Pupils must receive instruction on how to exit the building in the shortest possible time without confusion or panic.

He said the plan must be submitted to the New York State Police and local law enforcement by Oct. 15.

Dominic Creamer, emergency services and safety coordinator for the Town of Amherst, said the district should be proud of the plan.

“Not to take away from any other school district, but I believe this is the first plan to be put forth to a board for approval,” he said. “It’s been embraced very well by the principals.”

As part of the emergency response plan, state regulations require each school building to have a building level school safety team that consists of representatives from teachers, administrators, parent organizations, school safety personnel, community members, local law enforcement officials and other emergency response agencies.

Each building will use an incident command system model, led by an incident commander — the building’s principal — who will be responsible for the overall coordination of a situation.

“The incident commander is the overall person who runs everything,” Creamer said. “They move students from one site to another and make sure all of the logistics involved in the move are taken care of.”

Building safety team members will also assume general roles during a drill or an actual emergency.

The plan is available to view on the district’s website under “district safety plan for public comment.”

In another matter, Superintendent Anthony Panella updated the board on the district’s strategic planning, which he called a “leadership tool that provides us with an opportunity to focus the district and get everybody on the same page and make sure what we are doing is supported at all levels.”

The district has been working with the Warner Center out of the University of Rochester to facilitate the process of identifying key initiatives.

Panella said a district planning committee of more than 40 stakeholders includes himself and members of the district office; four teachers from each district building; administrative staff; three board members; two students; parents and community members; members from the Amherst Youth Consortium; members from the Parent Teacher Association; and a consultant from the Warner Center.

The committee is tasked with receiving and analyzing research; completing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis; and eventually identifying strategic issues that will become strategic initiatives.

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