Outdated fire alarms can be a danger to students and teachers

The killer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School set off a fire alarm to lure students into hallways on February 14. The Sun Sentinel  reports that once the shooting began, the school went into a Code Red procedure, where doors were automatically locked, and students and staff were required to stay in their classrooms. However, the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, pulled the fire alarm, “which overrides a Code Red.”

“As a result, doors that would have otherwise remained shut were being opened by students, making it easier for the gunman to find victims,” the Sun Sentinel reports.

Jerry Graziose, the Broward County school district’s former directory of school safety, told the Sun Sentinel that he had recommended upgrades to fire alarm systems so that the entire school doesn’t have to evacuate when someone pulls an alarm. Students will often pull false alarms as pranks.

There are systems available that will give the office 40 seconds to determine whether an emergency is real before sounding a school-wide alarm, Graziose said. The system could also be overhauled so that fire alarm levers are installed only in rooms where large numbers of people gather, such as auditoriums and libraries, rather than in every hallway.

The district included an $908,000 upgrade to fire alarm systems at Stoneman Douglas as part of the 2014 bond referendum approved by voters. The work was supposed to be completed by 2016, but it was delayed and is now included as part of a $10 million overall renovation to the school. The district expects to hire a vendor in July.


Crossing guards have new hand held stop signs

Some crossing guards in Arlington have new handheld stop signs with LED lights at the edges. The Washington Post reports that the Arlington County Police Department received four of the stop signs as part of a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program.

The signs have been distributed to crossing guards at Barcroft, Taylor, and Nottingham elementary schools and at Thomas Jefferson Middle School as part of a countywide pilot program. The police department chose the schools based on area accident rates, traffic volume and requests from principals.

“We want to use these as testers to see if traffic guards are happy with them and if it helps,” Savage said of the signs, which cost $200 apiece. “If it does, we definitely want to expand them and increase the funding.”

Fairfax schools suspend open flame science experiments

Fairfax County Public Schools suspended all science experiments using open flames on Monday. Superintendent Karen Garza acted in response to a fire Friday that burned five high school students.

The Washington Post describes the accident and the new precautions.

Here is the email message sent to all FCPS employees and KIT Plus subscribers: [Read more…]

Fairfax schools have fewer football injuries

‘Heads Up’ Keeps Football Injuries Down in Fairfax County Public Schools

Kudos to FCPS for techniques that have decreased the number of concussions and injuries in football as well as other sports.

Should students practice hiding in closets?

Launa Hall, a pre-K teacher in Arlington, writes about the trouble with lockdown drills. She and her assistant are required to lock the door, lower the window blinds  and shepherd the 16 children in their class into a cramped closet when the assistant principal announces over the loudspeaker, “Lockdown, everyone, thank you.”

“Instead of controlling guns and inconveniencing those who would use them, we are rounding up and silencing a generation of schoolchildren, and terrifying those who care for them,” Hall says. “We are giving away precious time to teach and learn while we cower in fear.”

VIrginia encourages statewide tornado drills on March 11

To meet the requirement of conducting at least one tornado drill each year, schools in Virginia are encouraged to register and participate in the statewide tornado drill set for 9:45 a.m. on March 11. During the drill, schools, government agencies, businesses and families can practice their tornado emergency plans. Information about tornadoes is available from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management: [Read more…]

McLean High School to embed time for intervention or enrichment within each school day next year

Greg Brandon reports that McLean High School’s “Highlander Time,” which is set aside “for students to receive educational intervention or enrichment” will no longer be optional next year.  In an email to members of the Fairfax Education Coalition, Greg noted that Highlander Time “was designed so that students who had good grades good sleep-in for the first period on Wednesdays; however, they would not be able to take a school bus.  Students who needed intervention or craved enrichment could take the bus at the regular time and get help from their teacher during the first period.”

Seems that most students thought they neither needed intervention or enrichment but craved more sleep on Wednesdays.  Beginning next school year, Highlander time will be 35 minutes every day after 1st/2nd period.

Looks like the MHS students were voting for later high school start times with their pillows.

Here is the email from McLean High School:

Dear Parent/Guardian:

Beginning in September 2013, Highlander Time will be embedded within the school day to make it more effective for our students.  This will replace our current format on Wednesday mornings. Fairfax County high schools are expected to have time set aside during the school day for students to receive educational intervention or enrichment.   At McLean, we are determined to use Highlander Time to provide our students with the most positive support possible to enhance their educational experience and achievements.

This past year, we measured the success of Highlander Time being offered every Wednesday at the beginning of the school day.  When comparing our attendance data to quarterly grade reports, it was clear that Highlander Time is not being used effectively for intervention or enrichment.  A committee of administrators, teachers, and counselors set out to create a schedule that would benefit all students with grades ranging from A-F.  Considering all other Fairfax County high schools currently have embedded time, we were able to successfully benchmark and identify the greatest successes with regard to intervention and enrichment.   Lastly, we talked with a sampling of McLean students, teachers and parents to develop a plan to make Highlander Time more effective.

Embedding Highlander Time within the school day meets several objectives stated by these interest groups:

  • Allows every student access to his/her teachers for extra help on a daily basis
  • Ensures the safety and security of our students by having the ability to take attendance and account for all students throughout the day
  • Helps reduce student stress and anxiety by allowing for extra time for academic assistance, to make up tests, to start homework, or to work on group projects
  • Provides time for teachers to build more positive one-on-one relationships with students

The new Highlander time will be held daily after 1st/2nd period for 35 minutes.  Students will have access to each of their teachers on a rotating basis.  This will allow students the opportunity to see each teacher 2-3 times per month, in addition to having the option to see a particular teacher more often if needed.  Teachers are looking forward to being able to use this time in a variety of ways to provide the needed intervention and enrichment.

We did not make this change without significant due diligence.  We understand that many families and students viewed Highlander Time as an opportunity to sleep in one day a week.  However, Highlander Time was never intended to be used as such, and the Wednesday morning format has actually been detrimental for many students in need of additional support and enrichment.  We believe that by embedding Highlander Time into the school day, our students and teachers will reap many benefits.

If you would like more information about this change, please visit our website at www.fcps.edu/McLeanHS/ .  I appreciate your cooperation as we make this needed change.

Thank you,

Ellen Reilly
Principal, McLean High School

Should all Virginia schools have armed police officers?

The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would require the state to provide funds for an armed police officer in each school. In Fairfax, each middle school and high school already has a school resource officer (SRO). John Torre, the spokesman for the school system told the Fairfax Times that placing an SRO in each of the county’s 139 elementary schools would cost $20 million.

Governor Robert F. McDonnell has created the School and Campus Safety Task Force, which is expected to make recommendations soon.

It’s time to provide five full days of school for Fairfax elementary school students

“Dorothy Bea’s two grandchildren were latchkey kids just one day each week, on Mondays,” Peter Baker reported in the Washington Post, January 26, 1989.  “Three days ago, during one of those periods at home alone, Bea’s unattended grandson found her loaded .32-caliber revolver buried deep in a bedroom drawer and fatally shot his sister.”

This article is titled “If It’s Monday, It Must Be Latchkey; Fairfax Schools’ Early Closing Each Week Worries Some Parents.”

I was one of the people that Baker quoted:

“It just worries me,” said Virginia Shea, a parent of two small children in the Lincolnia area, who cares for a neighbor’s second-grade daughter every Monday because of the early closing at Weyanoke Elementary. “It seems to me that with the number of mothers who work in Fairfax County that really should be carefully looked at. I just can’t help feeling that the safety of the kids has to take priority over the convenience of the teachers.”

Four months later Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane proposed that the school system stop dismissing students early on Mondays. In November of that year, the school board considered a plan to lengthen school hours with a seven-period day for secondary school students and full Mondays for elementary school students. The school board members approved the longer day for secondary school students, but said they would wait until the next year to do the same for elementary students, citing the $8.8 million cost of the program. This money would have paid for 220 additional teachers for art, music, and physical education.

On Monday, September 17, 1990, eight-year old Destiny Souza returned home from Newington Forest Elementary School at 1:20 p.m. When her mother returned home from work at 3:30 p.m., she found that Destiny had been beaten to death. Her murderer was later convicted and sentenced to a life term.

On November 15, 1990, the school board narrowly defeated Dr. Spillane’s revised plan to provide a full day on Monday for elementary school students while providing classroom teachers with larger blocks of planning time during the student day. The cost of the rejected proposal was $5.6 million for 128.5 additional teacher positions.

This year Superintendent Jack D. Dale is proposing adding $6.5 million to the budget for additional time for teachers without any additional time for elementary school students. It is time to remember the needs of the students.

Today, January 23, is the anniversary of the tragic shooting of the seven-year-old student from Springfield Estates Elementary school. Clearly it is time to provide full day Mondays for the elementary school students.

[The last paragraph was slightly edited since my original posting this morning.]

Washington area schools seek to reassure community members about safety

The Washington Post reports that Washington area educators and psychological experts emphasize that maintaining a sense of normalcy is important after the disturbing news of the killing of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Caitlin Gibson also reports that the Prince George’s County Pubic Schools conducted an active-shooter training drill with local law enforcement in June. “On Friday, D.C. Public Schools reminded principals to practice lockdown procedures and review active-shooter protocols,” Gibson reports. “A representative of the D.C. Public Charter School Board said District charter schools plan to take advantage of active-shooter training for staff in coming months.”

A message from Superintendent Jack D. Dale mentioning increased police patrols this week is included in the latest update from Fairfax County Public Schools: FCPS Resources for Community Support in Response to the Connecticut Tragedy.