Preschools on lockout?

Should child care centers adopt safety protocols?

Following the recent school shootings in Connecticut, measures are being taken to increase school safety across the nation.

Districts nationwide are adopting new procedures, updating old ones, adding security systems and looking at increasing police presence on school grounds.

With the implementation of lockout and lockdown drills in the Cortez middle and high schools, a team of fire department officials, police officers and school district employees are now addressing preschools as well.

Preschools in Montezuma and Dolores counties have been asked to consider putting a plan of action in place for their facilities. In front of the Montelores Early Childhood Council Monday, Feb. 4, the District Safety and Security Team (DSST) discussed a need for a standard response protocol, in case any threats are found in or outside of their buildings. This response protocol would be the same used in the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, so law enforcement agencies can react similarly.

In Montezuma and Dolores counties there are approximately six preschools or child-care centers. These preschools are not a part of the school districts, therefore they are not required to conduct fire or tornado drills unless deemed necessary. The Cortez Middle School and the Montezuma-Cortez High School must conduct these drills at least twice a year or quarterly.

Each Re-1 facility is different in size, structure and how many students are enrolled.

Most recently, Kemper Elementary School was on lockout after a suspicious person fled down a nearby alley. The school was contacted to immediately go into lockout, making sure normal daily activities proceeded inside. Buck Woodman of the Cortez Police Department said the situation was different from a lockdown and is a more probable scenario for our community.

Lexy Hudson of The Children's Kiva, located at 1204 E. Empire St., expressed her concerns.

"We don't deal with safety issues and concerns the way the fire department and the police department does," Hudson said, to the council. "We deal with little children. The preparation is what is so scary for me to hear."

At the Kiva, children enrolled are between 2-and-half and 6 years old. Hudson believes that if a standard response protocol were placed in any of the county preschools, teachers would know how to present that in a positive way and children would not be greatly affected.

"None of these teachers would ever tell a student, 'we have to do this because of a bad man,'" Hudson explained. "We would use some sort of symbolism to make it less terrifying."

The DSST urged teachers to consider all aspects of a threatening situation and have a plan put in place. Tips for stockpiling water and snacks, how to handle children with special needs or health problems and keeping activities around for preoccupation, were a few suggestions the team gave the council.

Retrieved from the 'I Love You Guys' website dedicated to a victim of the 2006 shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., the information gave clear and concise instructions on how to formulate proper lockdown and lockout drills.

With the simple terms - lockdown, lockout, evacuate, shelter - students should be able to immediately understand the command and perform the necessary drill. According to the SRP operational guidelines found on the website, the actions administered should be explained to the students, keeping it more tempered with elementary or preschool children. Middle school students and older need more accurate information to minimize panic and to mitigate recovery.

The DSST is available to those schools wanting to take efficient action. Tammy Hooten, facilities coordinator at the Re-1 school district, is in charge of coordinating evaluations of safety corridors, rooms, exits and entryways at any center wishing to adopt a standard response protocol.

The Tree House Learning Center located at 300 N. Elm St., has already made an effort to increase the safety at their school. Vangi McCoy, coordinator for MECC, said the information presented to the group was educational but it is up to the individual to proceed.

There is currently no call-list for law enforcement agencies to contact preschools or childcare centers.

Another fact was that police and fire departments are both granted key access to every elementary, middle and high school in the county should a lockdown occur. They do not have the keys for any preschool.

Charles Balke of the CFPD said that preschools could place keys in a Knox Box, which is virtually indestructible secure box. Facilities would have to purchase the box on their own. These secure boxes can begin at $200 and go up to $600.

"We are a non-profit organization. We are not funded by the school district," Hudson said. "This is something we have to do on our own so I feel like we need a plan for everyone to be on the same page."

Hudson sees this opportunity as a great chance to protect early childhood centers. She plans on taking the information she gained back to the Kiva and applying what she has learned to their original protocol.

Preschool teachers and childcare providers were encouraged to download the SRP from the "I Love You Guys" website to learn more information. There are also forms to notify parents of any drills their children will be taking part in.