May 2016 (School Safety)

Just before April vacation, Weston High School, along with over 30 other schools in Massachusetts, was the recipient of a bomb threat.  This was the second such threat we received in 2016.  Regardless of the increasing frequency of these threats, the receipt of strange “phishing” email, or even messages that seemingly alert us to fabricated incidents that have occurred on our campuses, I refuse to refer to this as the new normal.  They are meant to disrupt and cause us to divert and redeploy resources in response; and they raise the anxiety of students, staff and parents regardless if it is determined the threat level is very low.  While we know that is the objective of the call, I assure you that we take each one seriously and will never become complacent nor react with a knee-jerk indifference.


Without exposing all aspects of our response plan, I wanted to briefly provide some insights into what we are doing to keep our students and staff safe.


First, there is no such thing as a standard threatening incident; thus, there is no such thing as a standard response.  In each incident I, along with the school principal, Director of Safety Management, and key personnel from the Weston Police and Fire Departments, convene to make a threat assessment and decide upon an appropriate response.  In some situations, Weston Police and Fire may also access information or input from Mass State Police or Mutual Aide Response Teams to inform our decision.  As an example, with the latest bomb threat, Weston Police received information earlier in the morning, and subsequently informed us even before we accessed our call that a large number of high schools were receiving bomb threats.  This allowed us to begin thinking about “what ifs” and was a factor in the threat assessment we ultimately had to make.  


Assessing the level of a threat is not formulaic but rather benefits from the information available or attainable and the experience (ours or others) in similar types of situations.  In the latest matter, there was a confluence of information that caused us to consider the event a low threat.  Our response was to “Remain in Place”;  that is, restrict all entering and exiting of the school, and confine students and staff to the classrooms and out of common areas with as much business-as-usual as possible.  While all schools were alerted to the incident, we believed that no response was required in our other schools.   Police, fire and a number of high school staff then conducted a thorough sweep of the entire school; fire department members scanned the roof and perimeter of the building.  At the end of the sweep, we believed the school to be safe to return to normal activity.  We then debrief our response, identified areas needing improvement and building those into our protocol for future events.


All WPS schools continue to be involved with preparation for dealing with a myriad of threats to the safety and welfare of the students, staff and schools.  The high school and middle school have implemented ALICE training for all; our elementary schools are blending ALICE into the work of Safe and Sound Schools which is more age appropriate for our younger students.  In each case, we are learning from others, bringing the most current thinking and research to our planning and plans, and ensuring staff have options to employ when responding to events in the schools.   

Communication is a key component of every response plan and we will endeavor to keep parents and community members informed and updated throughout.  We ask that you not call the schools during these incidents as it ties up phone lines and staff that we need in responding. 


Thank you for your support throughout, and let’s never accept a ‘new normal’ that is disruptive, focuses on fear, or shakes the confidence of safety of our young.


John Brackett

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