Superintendent Roy Belson is featured in an article from the August edition of the American School Board’s Journal, the official publication of the National School Boards Association. This journal is distributed across the country and is a well- regarded publication designed to inform school committees and educators on best practices. The article, entitled: “Bomb Scare – Hoax or real danger? School leaders grapple with reactions to bomb threats” was written by senior editor and nationally respected journalist Del Stover, who interviewed Superintendent Belson for the article on three separate occasions.
The Medford Public Schools’ response to the February bomb scares are discussed in a very favorable light and the article provides insights from national experts representing the Educators’ School Safety Network (ESSN) ; National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO); and NY Police Commissioner William Bratton.
“Last school year, there were 740 bomb threats aimed at schools, which was a 143% increase over the same period three years earlier. This is something that has been under the radar for quite some time, but now there’s been this really exponential increase in some states. In Massachusetts, we’ve had such a dramatic rise …we’re averaging 10-11 bomb threats a day”, said Amy Klinger, Director of Programs, Educator’s Schools Safety Network (ESSN).
“These threats have to be taken seriously, but, if there’s one thing we’ve learned, we don’t have to totally disrupt what’s going on in schools,” said Mo Canady, Executive Director, National Association of School Resource Officers, (NASRO).”
“During its bomb scare, Medford High School officials followed the district’s crisis management protocols and handled the incident efficiently, Belson says. The threat was delivered via an automated phone message, lacking details. A call to the police for their input revealed that other districts had received a similar call. All of this strongly suggested the threat was a hoax. With the building secured, school personnel, trained for the task, conducted a visual search of the campus and reviewed security camera footage, while students were kept in classrooms with a minimum of fuss. Ultimately, school leaders felt confident the school day could continue safely. Our basic premise is to keep these situations as normal as possible and try not to excite people or create any kind of chaos, said Belson. ”
“As part of Medford’s safety protocols, school leaders go a step farther than most: They stay in touch with police and key community leaders on a weekly basis to review potential problems in the community. We want to know what’s going on in our environment”, said Belson. Is there something festering out there in the community? Are there angry people or angry kids who might be talking about violence? ”
“Yet the incident did not pass without comment. Some parents were unhappy they weren’t informed earlier”, said Belson. Under the circumstances, such criticism was a relatively small price for the district to pay. Although nearly all bomb threats are a false alarm, such incidents exact a price: The potential for serious injury to students and staff demands a diligent response, which mean the work of administrators and key staff is immediately disrupted. If the threat is deemed serious enough, the school may be evacuated at the cost of lost instructional time, community panic and emergency response that could cost a community thousands of dollars.
Earlier this year, nearly identical threats of a school attack — and explosives already planted —were emailed to school officials in New York City and Los Angeles. But, while New York City officials quickly concluded the threat was a hoax and continued classes, Los Angeles officials decided to err on the side of caution and closed down the district’s 900 schools for a day. Officials in both cities stood by their decisions, but some questioned Los Angeles’ position, including New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, who called LA’s decision a significant overreaction”.
Since the release of this article, Superintendent Belson has begun receiving inquiries from around the country about Medford’s practices and experiences. Medford’s model and preparation worked well and conforms to the best practices identified by school safety experts. “We are committed to remaining vigilant and we must continuously review our protocols and practices, but we are prepared and equipped to respond effectively to threats to our schools. Currently, our Principals are in the process of updating their multi-hazard emergency plans and scheduling appropriate drills at their respective schools. I plan to schedule a follow up discussion in the fall”, said Superintendent Belson.
To read the complete article, please go to: http://goo.gl/ZObqjH