Guest Column: Safety a priority for school district

By CHRIS SELLE

Special to the Herald Times

Chris Selle

MEEKER | Given the recent events in Parkland, Fla., and the continued national, state and local debate, student safety remains a primary question for parents and community members. The Meeker School district has taken, or is currently working on, numerous steps to keep our students safe.

The most significant advantage we maintain in small rural school districts like Meeker is the relationships we develop with students and families.  Our students know there are many trustworthy adults in our schools and share information with these adults. This information can be used to address potential threats to the school district. Parents and community members share with school staff when they hear or see concerning behaviors. School staff are diligent to investigate these behaviors and take appropriate action. These relationships are likely the most critical component to preventing school violence.  In nearly every incident of school violence, some type of warning signs are present.  When those warning signs are shared with school staff, we are able to put in place the proper actions and resources to prevent acts of school violence.

Additional preventative measures to provide a safe learning environment for our students include limited access to buildings, increased mental health supports and the possibility of armed individuals on school grounds.

Meeker Elementary School was built to be a secure building as it contains a limited number of access points and all visitors are forced to check in at the office prior to accessing any other point in the building. The renovation completed at Barone Middle School in the summer of 2015 vastly improved the school’s ability to control access to that building. Meeker High School is not a secure facility, which is one of the primary factors driving the district’s decision to pursue a BEST grant for renovation and construction of that building.

In the past three years, the Meeker School District has also significantly increased the social/emotional supports for students.  We are currently working to provide threat assessment training for specific staff members. Three years ago, we reinstated a full time school psychologist position through Rio Blanco BOCES. Last year, a school counselor was hired who splits time between the elementary and middle schools. Though Amy Chinn’s primary responsibilities are as the high school principal, her background provides two licensed school counselors on staff at the high school. The Meeker School District has never employed more individuals providing social/emotional supports for students than are currently on staff.

Recently, the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office contacted me about employing a school resource officer through collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office and the Meeker Police Department. Though this conversation is still in its infancy, it would pave the way for an armed law enforcement official to be on school grounds at all times.  Arming school staff members is not as black and white as we may think, but will likely continue to be a point of conversation for our school district.     

In addition to the preventative measures our school district has taken, we consistently practice appropriate responses should an emergency arise.  Research over the past 20-plus years has shown that injury and loss of life do not occur in a properly executed lockdown. As such, we regularly practice lockdown drills and have conducted these drills during unstructured times.  Our students and staff are well trained to respond appropriately to a variety of emergency scenarios.

The Meeker School District exists to help students learn. Keeping students safe is a responsibility equal to ensuring they learn.  I believe it is important for our community to know student safety is a top priority, and for our parents to share this information with their children.  The Meeker School District has been proactive with our responsibilities and will remain vigilant with the appropriate preventative measures to keep our children safe.

Chris Selle is the superintendent of the Meeker School District.