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TF school board hears safety update


by Justin Harris

In light of recent national events on school campuses, it was no surprise that safety was a topic during the Falls District school board meeting Monday night.

It was noted that since the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2013, the Thompson Falls School District trustees and administration put safety at the top of their list of stated goals and declared the campus environment their top priority. In cooperation with the Frisbie-Morbella Foundation and the City of Thompson Falls, that year, Officer Bob Thornhill was hired as School Resource Officer (SRO) for the district.

Since then, numerous organizations and outside experts have been a part of assessing the needs of the campuses. In time, avenues have been explored to shore up perceived weaknesses on district properties that host students during and after school hours.

Superintendent Jason Slater invited Thornhill to share his latest findings from recent safety meetings, and discuss steps taken since 2013 to provide the safest campuses possible for students.

Instrumental in ongoing safety assessments and actions is the School Crisis Team formed for each school.

“This team works very hard for our district and has accomplished a lot behind the scenes,” shared Slater, adding that their dedication and hours have been invaluable for peace of mind and safety amongst students, parents and staff.

Included in their efforts in conjunction with the district are the security cameras installed at each campus. Fortunately, most of the motion-tripped footage is of deer and other wildlife roaming the campuses. Cameras have also been installed on buses owned by Mosher Transportation, the district’s longtime partner in shuttling students to and from school, as well as extra-curricular activities.

Slater noted that the issue of safety covers more than just potential violent threats, addressing to the additional outside lighting installed at the campuses, where it tended to be very dark after sunset. To increase proactive abilities of staff, all are given CPR/First Aid training each fall.

Thornhill reported that a recent meeting of the “who’s who” in crimefighting and emergency response brought renewed efficiency to the topic of safety. He cited the presence of County Emergency Manager Bill Naegeli, representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Thompson Falls Police Department, fire, ambulance, child protective services and school administration to discuss how to best work together in case of an emergency.

“It is best if these agencies know what the school is doing in an emergency in order to effectively proceed during crisis,” explained Thornhill. He noted the organizations would meet again March 27 to exchange ideas and communicate to thoroughly understand each department’s plans in various emergency situations.

Evacuation plans have been developed for various situations and drills are held periodically. Two-way radios for all staff have been provided. Defensive spray and other deterrents were put in every classroom at the recommendation of an outside professional group at the state level. The junior high school’s fire alarm system was recently inspected and updated, according to head teacher Rochelle Dickson. It was found that the dated system might not have even worked during a fire since procedural instructions for the system have long been lost and the word-of-mouth lore on how to properly arm and operate the alarms was not entirely accurate.

Elementary principal Len Dorscher noted some new changes at that campus.

“We’ve done a lot in securing buildings, even though we heard that the locked doors were inconvenient for day-to-day happenings,” Dorscher said. “But we know that ‘inconvenience’ is not a good excuse for poor security. We’ve decided to ensure that the gymnasium building’s doors will now be locked at all times – making all exits and entrances at the school secure.”

The phone systems have been outfitted to deliver emergency announcements throughout the school or to classrooms individually. The Student Information System has also been upgraded, allowing mass messages to be sent via email, text and voice message simultaneously. The system can send a message regarding an emergency or snow closure to all numbers in the contact list in a matter of minutes.

Slater acknowledged the work, helpful input and efforts of the community and its organizations.

“Our greatest resource is the people in our school and community who work together to find solutions and be positive,” Slater shared. He noted the district is fortunate to have access to support personnel onsite including administrators, school counselors, CSCT therapists, school psychologist and SRO.

Concerned individuals are encouraged to report potential concerns or suspicious behaviors to law enforcement and school officials. Those who have an idea to share about school safety are urged to contact school administration or SRO Bob Thornhill.


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