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Local schools looking at safety

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN In the wake of Monday’s shootings at Virginia Tech, area school officials have been reviewing their own security procedures as a precaution against the possibility of a similar crisis happening.In both the Aspen and the Roaring Fork school districts, officials had been working with local emergency responders since last fall, after a lone gunman killed a 16-year old girl at the Platte Canyon High School in Bailey.”We kind of have really been looking at this issue all year,” said Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko on Tuesday, adding that the district sent representatives to a recent meeting of the region’s Public Safety Council that dealt with, among other topics, the question of school security.She said the district has an emergency shutdown plan in effect now, and will be reviewing that plan next week once the Aspen area schools return to normal operations. This week, she noted, the high school is shut down for Ex-Ed, a week of off-campus trips involving the entire school.In general, Sirko said, when incidents occur such as the shootings at Virgina Tech, “You look at each situation and ask, ‘What are the things that we can learn from this?'”She said each of the schools in the Aspen district has its own lockdown drills, which limit all student movements within a school, and evacuation procedures to nearby, off-site public facilities in case of an emergency. An emergency handbook outlining the precise drills and procedures is being revised this year, she said.”We do have different scenarios, and we’re updating them all the time,” she said.At the larger RFSD, which encompasses Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, the district has been working with police in the three communities, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol.According to information provided by the district, the school’s emergency response planning is centered around a plan that already is used in Basalt and will be in place across the district by the fall.Next fall, according to RFSD Superintendent Judy Haptonstall, police will conduct school security information meetings for parents and include details in student handbooks about lockdown processes, prearranged meeting points and information avenues for parents. Basalt Police Sgt. Mark Langford, who has been working with the school district, stressed key points that parents should know in case of an actual lockdown;• Tune in to local radio stations, or call the school district’s emergency information line at 384-6075 to confirm a lockdown. Information also may be sent to parents via e-mail or automated call systems, when available. • Parents and media representatives will not be allowed at the school campus, but instead should report to predetermined parent gathering or public information locations in each community. All situation updates will be distributed by officials from a designated spot in each community, such as Basalt Town Hall for the Basalt schools.• Families should discuss and predetermine their own emergency communication plans.In addition to consistent lockdown procedures, the RFSD began a series of security policy updates in January. Some of the safety improvements include: required fingerprinting for all school volunteers, which has been endorsed by local police departments; required sign-in and badges for all school visitors; and new photo IDs for all district employees.The district reported that some measures are still forthcoming, including the issuance of vehicle parking stickers for staff and eligible students; fencing all school playgrounds; and using cell phones or two-way radios for staff on campus duty. To report any safety concerns, students can phone an anonymous, statewide Safe To Tell tip line at (877) 542-SAFEJohn Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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