Mesa outlines emergency plan for school year The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa outlines emergency plan for school year

Mesa outlines emergency plan for school year

By Zach Alvira
Tribune Staff Writer

Even as classrooms are only just beginning to reopen gradually, Mesa Public Schools has a plan for emergencies beyond COVID-19 outbreaks.

Those plans for emergencies and security procedures were outlined for the Governing Board last week.

Allen Moore, the district’s director of safety and security, outlined the existing procedures for all schools in Mesa and highlighted the additional measures being taken this school year to combat potential threats to students.

Moore said the district intends to practice the various drills mandated by state and federal officials.

“We have a lot of protocols in place,” Moore said. “I’ve been working tirelessly since I’ve been here in 2008. I’ve worked with local police departments and best practices around the country.”

Mesa Public Schools is required to perform at least one fire drill per month.

Additionally, the state mandates four lockdown drills per year, one of which must be held when students are outside of the classroom at lunch or recess.

Moore said the district has always practiced lockdowns four times a year, even before that number became a requirement.

The district is also required to perform one off-site evacuation drill per year, as well as go through the reunification for kids with parents afterward.

The reunification process had to be conducted in 2016 when there was a bomb threat to Jefferson Elementary School.

Moore said it took the bomb squad more than three hours to finish its sweep of the building, well after the final bell for the day had rang.

Campus and district security guards with the district are required to go through three trainings per year in conjunction with Mesa Police on dealing with possible threats to staff or students.

Additionally, teachers – including substitutes – also undergo training to identify potential child abuse victims and the protocol to follow in the event of an active shooter on campus.

“Usually, by this time, we would have already done a series of active shooter trainings with the police department,” Moore said, “but because of COVID that was put off. Typically, we go to one of the local schools and they run through simulations and they invite staff members to attend as well.”

Moore said the district has invested more in security for schools and district offices in recent years, installing as many as 100 cameras at each high school, 40-50 at every junior high and about 15-20 at each elementary school.

All the cameras are fed through a server that allows the district to go back as far as three months to review footage.

The district is also planning to install alert beacons at several schools that will flash a blue light when a lockdown is in progress.

Moore said this allows students, faculty and district staff who may be arriving to campus not to enter onto school grounds. He said it will also help residents in the neighborhoods surrounding some schools to stay away from the building.

Part of Mesa’s safety protocol for each school includes locking doors to buildings and classrooms at all times during the school day.

While doors leading outside will remain locked, classroom doors initially may remain open to improve ventilation as to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 infections.

Once the district’s benchmarks warrant a full return to in-person learning, classroom doors will once again be locked.

“Once we go back to full-time in-person we will go back to our normal protocols where classroom doors are locked,” Moore said. “The main reason for that is many of these active shooters are opportunists and looking for someone to hurt. If the doors are locked, they just keep going until they find an unlocked door.”

Moore said the district is exploring an automated lockdown system that would better alert teachers and staff on campus. The district is also exploring the use of electronic locks to control access to buildings.

The added security measures are one of several projects the district has taken on since the shutter of schools last March.

Using more than $1.2 million in capital money from various sources, the district installed security windows at the front offices of several schools.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Thompson said the windows – which are equipped with bulletproof film – can be opened or closed to interact with individuals who enter the office.

However, in the age of COVID, Thompson said they will remain closed.

“We’ve kind of gotten a standard going and have gotten down to what we really think works,” Thompson said. “It’s really about creating that good, solid, security in that capsule area.”

In addition to the front office security upgrades, the district also installed riot-security film at nine schools, new security fences at five and updated HD cameras at 24 sites.

Additional projects include a nearly $900,000 update to the asphalt in front of 14 different schools, including Red Mountain and Mountain View high schools.

Nearly $4.2 million has already been spent to install 164 new air conditioning units, with another 147 scheduled to be completed by the end of September. Chillers and controls have also been added at 11 sites.

Three elementary schools – Ishikawa, Shepherd and Smith – received updated kitchens while five others have new playground equipment.

Lehi Elementary School received an overhaul of upgrades this summer, including the front office security, updated bathrooms and a refreshed media center, which is located in the library.

Associate Superintendent Holly Williams said the new space is called, “the treehouse,” echoing the desires from students.

“They are very excited to have this in the media center,” Williams said. “It’s a place where kids can gather and work together. I can’t wait for the kids to come in and see the changes.

“I think they will be very excited.”

Thompson said the district will continue to provide refreshes to other campuses going forward. He emphasized the district is strategically planning which campuses receive the updates first as a way to minimize costs.

“We only have limited funds,” Thompson said, “but we want to emphasize that we everyone is getting something out of this process.” 

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