In wake of Parkland shooting, Amherst principal addresses concerns


(Brian Choquet/ Amherst Independent)

Jill Webb

It’s been over a week since 17 people were killed during a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and several parents and guardians in the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District have voiced concerns about the safety of schools closer to home.

In response to those concerns, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson penned a letter addressing how the school aims to prevent events like Parkland’s and also a review of the school’s response procedures.

When in doubt, report

Of the emails the district received, many parents were concerned with what the school plans to do to prevent shooting attempts and how they’re working to decrease the likelihood of these events.

Jackson has put an emphasis on ARHS looking out for key signs in potential perpetrators.

Paying attention to student’s behavior and noticing actions, is what Jackson refers to as “first-line defense” from the ARHS faculty and staff. ARHS has a mantra in place for what to do when face with concerning behavior.

“When in doubt, report,” Jackson said in the letter.

In August, the school annually trains faculty and staff on what indicators to look for in students, when to report, and how to go about doing so. The school’s counselors go over these guidelines and address what the school needs to be alert to.

“An important category are students’ words or writings that reference suicidal ideation, an intent to self-harm or harm others or include any references to violence,” Jackson wrote. “These could be overheard, found in student papers or journals or even in a doodle that appears in a notebook.”

The training puts an emphasis on how to react when encountering a situation that leaves you feeling uneasy. Instead of trying to interpret or explain the situation, refer it to a guidance counselor or the administration.

Jackson writes that this tends to work for the school, noting that each year faculty has brought attention to signals from students to staff members who are equipped to handle them.

Threat assessment protocol

Aside from awareness on campus, Jackson says there are structures in place to monitor struggling and challenged students.

“There are several groups that meet on a set schedule to develop and monitor intervention plans for these students,” Jackson said in the letter. “This work includes enlisting the support of outside providers and staying in close communication with parents or guardians.”

Within these structural routines, is the school’s threat assessment protocol.

“Several ARHS faculty members have been trained to assess if a student-issued threat is transient or substantive and, then, to determine an appropriate course of action. This work is conducted in conjunction with APD and, as well, actively involves families,” writes Jackson.

ARHS also works to deter bullying and harassment within the district. Throughout the school year, there is programming put into place to support anti-bullying movements.

On the school’s website, there is an anonymous form that enables anyone within the ARHS community come forward with bullying and harassment issues. When such statements are submitted, investigations will be put into place by the school.

“The heart of this is maintaining a school culture that promotes inclusion and acceptance,” writes Jackson. “This is an affirmative agenda, one that extends beyond simply discouraging bullying and harassment.”

Emergency procedures

In regards to responding to potential threats, the school begins each school year with emergency response drills. Every student and adult is involved in the drills. The Amherst Police Department works with the school during such drills, and gives feedback to administration.

Drills are not limited, and include lockdowns, shelter in place, and responses to a tornado warning. Jackson says in an upcoming March faculty meeting he plans to go over these procedures.

Last year, AHRS added the ALICE framework to their lockdown and shelter in place drills. While the school’s tradition method has faculty, staff, and students behind a locked door, the ALICE framework adds options including evacuation, barricading doors, and distraction.

“We believe these measures complement well our traditional practices and align us with the best, current thinking in the emergency preparedness field,” Jackson wrote.

Other additions to security measures within the last year have been swapping out classroom door locks to allow doors to be secured from inside, along with installing shades on classroom windows and doors that face the hallways.

Each of the school’s desktop computers had an app installed this year to enable direct communication with the Amherst Police Department. This installation was put in to improve response time for school emergencies. The technology allows police to pinpoint the sender’s location.

“If a threat were to occur, rather than having to communicate with the main office, which would, then, in turn, communicate with APD, faculty and staff are able to direct their concern immediately to APD,” Jackson wrote.

Jackson encourages any community members to come forward with questions, concerns, or thoughts about measures worth considering.

Reach Jill at [email protected]