That’s the message from APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy, in a letter to students, staff and parents.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Murphy noted that “all staff are trained on… situations involving an active shooter.”
Dear APS Students, Staff and Families,
While reflecting on the events over the past week and the effect that it has had on our nation and our school community, it gave me pause and impelled me to reach out to all of you to express my own concerns and heightened awareness about the steps we must continue to take to ensure that our students, staff and families are safe at Arlington Public Schools.
Last week, when staff and families started to receive word about the unspeakable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many questioned why this was happening in schools throughout our country. This was true for me and for our teachers, principals, and other staff members as well as School Board members and administrators. Families and staff have expressed these same feelings through a variety of channels and we are listening closely and re-examining our protocols so our school community feels confident that APS continues to be a safe and secure place to teach and learn.
Safety is always a top priority in our schools, but Columbine and September 11 made every school district in the country reassess what we can do to keep our schools safer for learning and teaching. Over the years, we have invested a significant amount of time to evaluate our operations, to enhance school safety, to train teachers and school staff, and to practice so we know what to do in an emergency. Staff also regularly debriefs after something happens so we can look at what took place with calmer minds and continue to learn, adjust and improve.
Because you share our number one concern related to safety in your child’s school, and since every APS school is different, last week most APS principals communicated with their school communities about the procedures and measures that are in place at individual schools.
In addition to the information shared by our principals, I want to convey some additional thoughts.
- Every school has an emergency plan and established procedures which have been developed with APS safety staff and members of the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD). All staff are trained on these procedures, including situations involving an active shooter.
- Visitors to each school are required to sign in and out in the main office to record their presence in the school. We are reinforcing this practice and double-checking that each school is strictly following this practice to ensure that we are aware of all visitors in our schools.
- Our partnership with Arlington County is critical to our schools’ safety, and School Resource Officers (SROs) provide a regular presence in our schools and work with school staff on training.
- Public safety staff regularly work with us to evaluate our current emergency and safety systems and to make recommendations about improvements in our procedures. They also help us with training exercises and safety drills.
- APS is fortunate to have a dedicated team of counselors and professionals who provide added care and support for our students (and adults) during emergencies.
Finally, school safety is everyone’s responsibility, so if you SEE or HEAR something that is suspicious or unusual, SAY something. More importantly, speak with your children at home and remind them how important it is to always notify a school staff member, the SRO or another trusted adult whenever they see or hear someone or something suspicious.
We’re grateful for your support because one of the best strategies to keep our schools safe is continuing to talk and work together.
Patrick K. Murphy Ed.D.