Monomoy Redoubles School Security Planning

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Monomoy Regional School District

Monomoy High School students were efficiently evacuated to Brooks Park during a hoax bomb threat earlier this year, but accounting for every student was a challenge. FILE PHOTO

Online System Designed To Help In Emergency

The Monomoy Regional Schools have always taken school security seriously, but the district has taken a fresh look at its practices and procedures in the wake of a bomb threat at the high school earlier this year and high-profile school shootings in Texas and elsewhere.

On the heels of a School Safety Week shortly after the start of classes, the district completed the roll-out of CrisisGo, an online system designed to help the flow of information during an emergency.

“We have been working with our staff and public safety for the past decade to prepare for the worst,” Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter said. “Our staff and public safety have had very concrete plans in place and have trained for these worst-case scenarios.”

Though recent school shootings in Virginia and Uvalde, Texas, are in the headlines, the need for better emergency communication was underscored by a much more mundane event: a hoax bomb threat last May. School officials immediately evacuated students to nearby Brooks Park, and a heavy police and fire presence ensured that they were kept safe while officials investigated. But school officials found that the process for accounting for students was cumbersome. There was also heavy traffic congestion when parents arrived earlier than expected to pick up their children.

“The Brooks Park reunification was the impetus for us,” Carpenter said. “We knew that there were tech tools that could improve that, so we partnered with CrisisGo.”

During an evacuation, classroom teachers are required to take attendance and then submit the names to administrators to make sure students are all accounted for. It’s a system that poses a number of challenges, including “attendance taking with paper copies, gathering them from all the staff, limited communication with the whole group because only a few have walkie-talkies,” Carpenter said.

The CrisisGo system allows teachers to communicate with one another during an emergency, and in September, teachers and administrators were trained on how to use the system to take attendance and improve the process of reunifying students and parents. Further training involved teaching first responders and school leaders how to use the system to push critical messages to one another during an incident. Additional safety drills were recently completed and the system is being fine-tuned, officials say.

“We wanted to start off September of this year including students across grade levels in those conversations about events we hope never happen here,” Carpenter said. “With a pandemic limiting some drill capacity in the past couple of years, we wanted to bring safety to the foreground with a School Safety Week.”

It is no simple task to inform students and staff about active shooter events and other crises, without alarming them, Carpenter said.

“What you say and the words you use definitely shift as the students get older,” he said. “The messaging across grade levels is, ‘if it is safe to do so, get out of the building.’ You can also avoid using terms that are anxiety-producing, while not impacting the take-away message.” A presentation to parents might not explicitly refer to school shootings but talk about drills “for both fire and violent incident scenarios,” he said.

In addition to strong partnerships with the fire and police departments in its towns, regular safety drills and CrisisGo, there is another advantage the Monomoy district holds: its newest building, the high school, was built with a limited number of controlled access points. That’s a contrast with older buildings like Nauset High, which was designed in an age where openness was stressed.

“You can imagine how difficult it is to secure a school comprised of multiple buildings when students need to actively walk between them during the day,” Carpenter said. “Nauset isn’t the only campus in the state like that, with a mid-20th century ‘California style’ architecture,” he said.

When Monomoy High School was being designed, the Sandy Hook massacre was still fresh in people’s minds, and that influenced the design.

“Our front vestibule outside of the MRHS’s main office was added with security in mind post-Sandy Hook. Visitors ring an exterior doorbell to be buzzed into the vestibule, but then need to interface with someone from the main office through a window before being buzzed into the school building,” Carpenter said. “The vestibule wasn’t in the initial architectural plans but was added in my first year here with school security and recent events in mind.”