STAFFORD – In the wake of the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many residents and parents are concerned for the safety of their children as they send them off to school each day.
At a recent Board of Education meeting, the board brought in a School Safety Specialist to explain and describe the various measures the Stafford School District takes to keep students and teachers safe in the event of a crisis.
School Safety Specialist is a relatively new title held by David Ytreboe who works with the Board of Education and the district to promote and implement new initiatives to help bolster the safety of the students and staff. Ytreboe is the president of the Berkeley Township Board of Education and a former assistant principal at Toms River High School North.
In his safety presentation, Ytreboe noted that each school is meant to have a fire drill and safety drill per month. The drills are described in plain language as opposed to codes, and range from active shooter drills to lock downs to evacuations for bomb threats and more.
“Our drills do change monthly to provide staff with more scenarios,” he said. “This is something that we instituted last year…we try to make it as dynamic as possible.”
In addition to the drills, the district also has administrative table top simulations. These are extensive simulations, involving the police department, “where our administrative team has to make decisions…to try to come up with the best solutions,” he explained. These simulations also began last year.
Every year the Emergency Handbook is renewed and updated as well.
“In our buildings we have two panic buttons, and blue alarms and strobes installed in every building,” said Ytreboe. When the security is breached, it sets the alarms and strobes off in the building to alert everyone. This is used in active shooter drills, he added.
Each classroom is also equipped with a drawstring bag that contains an Emergency Response Guide for the teachers. “It contains every scenario you would face in an emergency, such as an active shooter, bomb threats, nuclear attack,” he said. Along with the guide, the bag contains a class list, and a neon yellow vest that the teachers can use to identify themselves to first responders.
These guides provide the teachers with step-by-step instructions on how to respond to any dangerous situation. They include a green page labeled “ALL CLEAR” and a red page labeled “NEED HELP” to signal their status whether they are inside or outside of the classroom.
“This is a visual way for us to communicate over distances,” Ytreboe said. “We’re hoping to add more equipment into the classroom via this bag in the near future.”
There are also secure vestibules in all of the main entrances to the schools. He noted that when kids are to be picked up from school, they are to be brought to the main office and everyone entering the building must present ID, sign in, and be given a temporary badge ID that has a clear expiration date.
There are upgraded camera systems in every building, phones in classrooms that dial out, and radios for staff, security, and administration. The radios, when tuned to channel one, connect directly with the Stafford Township Police dispatch.
In 2015, the Stafford schools began implementing barricade devices to help ensure the safety of the staff and students as well, Ytreboe added, noting that they are different in every school. These barricades attach to the doors in various ways to help secure the classrooms against an intrusion or breach.
He also noted that, while working alongside the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the district came up with a Critical Response Graphic. “Our buildings are mazes and they’re complicated, and we can’t expect our first responders to know where (to go),” he said.
The graphic creates a military-grade grid over a map that first responders can use to find a location, in a way that is universal.
The Stafford School District also has three full-time safety officers and one substitute safety officer. One officer is a recent retiree from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office with 27 years police experience. Another is a retired officer of the Barnegat Township Police Department, with 25 years’ experience on the force and experience on the local and county SWAT teams.
Lee Evans, the third safety officer, comes from a background of 25 years’ experience in West Windsor Township and previously worked as a firearm instructor and range master.
“I’m not saying I know every gun and every situation that’s going to occur but we are well trained,” he said. “I think you’re in good hands with the three of us.”
Substitute safety officer Carl Santiago is a former Sergeant with the NJ State Department of Corrections and currently works as a bus driver for the district as well.
“Though I’m a substitute safety officer, I’m a full time school bus driver, so my experience extends onto the school bus watching your kids,” said Santiago.
The safety officers do carry concealed weapons, said Ytreboe. However, they are concealed so as not to be a distraction or a source of fear for the students.
“Not only do they provide us with safety, but they also have a great rapport with our students and with our staff,” said Superintendent George Chidiac.