YARMOUTH — A public forum will be held Wednesday, March 21, to discuss the general approach to safety in local schools. 

The event will be held in the cafeteria at Yarmouth High School from 6:30-8 p.m. School leadership and public safety officials will be on hand to discuss current and future school strategies and to listen to the public’s concerns and ideas. 

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff said in a March 1 letter to school families and staff that safety and the well-being of students and staff members “has been, and will always be, at the forefront of our work each day.” 

We have been both diligent and fortunate in the Yarmouth Schools,” Dolloff said. “It is our intent that our efforts will continue to result in schools that are safe places for all members of our community.”

Dolloff said Yarmouth schools practice basic lockdown and evacuation drills throughout the school year, but have not transitioned to ALICE training, or a similar method, like other nearby schools, such as Cape Elizabeth and Brunswick

ALICE, an acronym for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate,” teaches individuals to take action when a threat is posed if evacuation is not possible. 

“We’re just looking at what we do now and what we could consider and improve in the future,” Dolloff said. 

As it stands, the department’s approach to school safety is best described, Dolloff said, as “prevention, protection, and mitigation.”

The “prevention” aspect of the plan focuses on developing meaningful relationships between staff and students and “assisting them in their development as healthy, well-adjusted young people.” It includes maintaining appropriate staff-to-student ratios in classrooms, employing highly qualified teachers, a wide array of co-curricular opportunities, and a strong group of student health professionals to provide students and families with support. 

“This is, of course, an oversimplification of the work done in this area,” Dolloff said. 

“Protection” aims to minimize the likelihood of threats to schools. Each year, the Yarmouth School Committee approves an updated Emergency Response Plan with input from school leadership and emergency management professionals. 

“For security reasons many portions (of the plan) are for internal use only,” Dolloff said. “Publicizing our plans to potentially threatening individuals provides them with information that could lead to greater harm to staff and students.”

According to Dolloff, the Emergency Response Plan is up to date and exceeds state requirements. 

After each lockdown and evacuation drill, school administrators work with the town’s public safety officials to review the performance in drills and evaluate what aspects were executed safely and efficiently and which could be improved. 

As far as the safety and security of all four town schools, each has controlled access points throughout the school day that require visitors to be buzzed in through a remote audio and video system before doors unlock. 

Each school is also equipped with panic buttons that instantly notify public safety officials. These systems are tested during the summer and each emergency drill.

A significant portion of the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan is dedicated to the district’s response to emergencies, or mitigation. 

“We meet several times each year with our Crisis Response Team, which includes members of school leadership, as well as local emergency responders and community leaders, where we conduct tabletop drills and explore best practices for responding to local crises,” Dolloff said. 

The district is continually looking for ways to improve their safety practices, Dolloff said, by attending seminars and webinars and participating in regional and national trainings. 

He added that the district has a unique opportunity to evaluate and update their school security measures during the planning phases of future expansion and renovations at the schools.

“We will not let that opportunity be missed,” Dolloff said.  “We believe strongly that we cannot become complacent in this work. Continual diligence and commitment to our core values demands that we constantly review our own performance and search for improvements across all facets of our schools.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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