Mt. Laurel Schools present yearly updates to district security and safety plan

Changes this year pertain to emergency contact information, bomb threat procedures and the recording of suspicious phone calls.

Per state mandate, the Mt. Laurel School District must review its emergency procedures manual each year to determine if procedures are current and valid.

At the most recent Board of Education meeting, director of communications Marie Reynolds presented the updates for the district’s School Safety and Security Plan for the 2016–2017 school year.

Just some areas of review on the state Department of Education’s 91-point security plan include district emergency contact information, visitor policies, evacuation policies, mental health protocols, and violence prevention and intervention programs.

Reynolds outlined changes made this year for the Mt. Laurel district, included updating contact information, revising bomb threat procedures and adding information of the recording of phone calls.

In regard to bomb threats, Reynolds said in the past it was nearly automatic that bomb threats to schools would cause immediate evacuations. Now Reynolds said the district was being asked to proceed differently.

Unless the district has a “very confirmed and definite threat” that there is an incendiary device in the area, Reynolds said principals will now first collaborate with police over whether a school should evacuate and where that school should evacuate so it’s not in the same, predictable area.

“We have seen nationally in some of these incidents a routine evacuation is undertaken, and there is violence in that area that was orchestrated by the suspect,” Reynolds said.

During this annual review, Reynolds said the district also had “tremendous support” from its school security officer, who works with the district’s principals during drills to present specific “scenarios” for schools to run.

If during drills the officer notices patterns or procedures an attacker might be able to exploit, the officer can offer suggestions for adjustments.

“That’s where we really learn what needs to be changed in the emergency procedures manual,” Reynolds said.

In regard to the district’s new telephone system, Reynolds said the district now has the ability to record phone calls, which can be done if an employee believes something suspicious is happening. She said the district now has a specific checklist and policy for whether a call should be recorded.

“Everyone who answers a phone in the district will now have that information on hand,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said copies of the emergency procedures manual were then sent to the chief of police, fire chief and the township’s’ emergency management coordinator for their input as well.

Reynolds also noted many of the district’s security and safety procedures were developed in part from a review that national security expert Kenneth Trump conducted when the Mt. Laurel district commissioned him in 2001.

During that time, Reynolds said Trump spent four days within the district performing walkthroughs of buildings both day and night, conducting personnel interviews and meeting with the local chief of police at the time.

“It’s noteworthy that Kenneth Trump is the national expert that … years later is still cited whenever there is a major incident of school violence in the country,” Reynolds said.

After the board approved the changes to this year’s manual, Reynolds said the policies were set to send to district employees.