Ludington Area Schools superintendent discusses school safety.

February 19, 2018

Ludington Area Schools superintendent discusses school safety.

Dear students, parents, staff, and community members:

As news of the latest school shooting in Florida has spread throughout our country, we have been confronted with the traumatic and shocked faces of children, parents, and school staff members through the media. We have seen terrified children, heard gunshots ringing throughout a school, and have watched as teens captured this horrific event using social media.

This is every superintendent’s, every educator’s, and every parent’s worst nightmare. Even more so, this tragedy is a nightmare for our students, who have seen and heard the events that occurred in Florida, over and over again. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and colleagues of those who lost their lives in this heinous and cowardly act of violence, as well as with our students and families who are struggling to make sense of this.

The safety and security of Ludington students is of the utmost importance to our District. We believe that it is important for you to know that we are diligently working to prevent these types of violent situations in our schools. Over the past several years, our schools have participated in multiple trainings that are coordinated with Mason County Emergency Management, first responders, and law enforcement officials. Our staff has been trained using the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) protocol, and we have built strong and supportive relationships with law enforcement officials. This includes staff being trained by nationally trained experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the United States Department of Homeland Security.

The latest of these trainings took place this school year and were entitled: AWR 148: Crisis Management for School Based Incidents – Partnering Law Enforcement, First Responders, and Local School Systems, and AWR 417: Crisis Management for School Based Incidents for Key Decision Makers. We are always seeking to improve our practice and to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and students. While we hope to never have to use much of the information learned from these trainings, we continue to prepare ourselves for what was once the unthinkable.

Training in all hazards planning and preparation, conducting vulnerability assessments, threat assessment management, all hazards response and recovery, and the development of a comprehensive Emergency Operations Procedures (EOP) Manual are examples of training and exercises that our leaders have participated in to prepare for events such as those that have occurred recently. Leaders from school safety teams from all districts throughout our county meet on a monthly basis with emergency management and law enforcement officials to stay updated on these topics.

Furthermore, our Board of Education recently approved a partnership agreement with the Ludington Police Department (LPD) that led to the hiring of a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO), a resource that few schools have. Emergency management officials have advised us on how to better secure our schools, we have limited access to buildings, we have added security cameras, we have modified drop off and pick up procedures, we have instituted the Rave Panic Button (a notification system that links directly to Central Dispatch [Mason-Oceana 911]), we have made significant investments in the security of our classroom doors by installing the Boot in all of our classrooms, and all Lakes 8 Conference schools have facility plans on file in each school building, just to name a few. Our procedures are continually evolving, as we know that our students learn best in a safe and secure environment.

We know that we cannot keep our schools safe without the help and support of our entire community. We urge you to learn about the warning signs that are connected with school shooters in the United States. These warning signs include, but are not limited to: violent fantasies, anger problems, fascination with weapons, being a loner, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, stalking, interest in previous shootings, paranoia, violence and cruelty, acting out, police contact, mental health issues, use of alcohol and drugs, and unusual interest in police, military, and terrorist activities.

Experts suggest that a single warning sign by itself might not be significant, but a cluster of warning signs is much more serious. Please make sure that your child knows that they must tell a trusted adult immediately if they feel their school is threatened in any way. This includes sharing information about weapons or threatening acts of violence in person or online.

Finally, we need your support in helping our children cope with the painful feelings that may be triggered by the recent tragedy in Florida. The National Association of School Psychologists has provided tips for parents. One of the most important things that you can do is to help your child express their feelings. This means ensuring that you are making the time to ask your children questions, finding time to listen to them, and then helping them process the recent events by pointing out safeguards and what to do in the event of an emergency. As a school community, we stand united against all acts of violence, and know that we are stronger and safer when we work together as students, parents, staff, and community members. We are committed to continual improvement, and are focused on providing a safe and secure learning environment for all of our students.

Jason Kennedy, Superintendent.