Dear Parents and Staff,
All of our hearts are broken by the horrible events that occurred in Connecticut on Friday. Our entire nation and indeed the world are in mourning. I am in awe of the heroism the teachers, principal, staff and parents displayed.
After similar events in the past, we are often asked how safe our schools are in Las Virgenes. Please know that we do all we can to ensure the safety of all of our students every day and we are prepared to the greatest extent possible for many sorts of disasters and eventualities. National statistics show that schools are the safest places for children because of our dedicated and professional staff.
Specifically our schools are safe because:
-All of the schools and the District have an extensive School Safety Plan that is reviewed annually.
-Emergency drills including lock downs are conducted routinely.
-We partner extensively with the LA County Sheriff’s Department, LA County Fire Department, our four cities and other emergency agencies.
-We are installing wireless “hot spots” in the parking lots of all of our schools so that emergency vehicles can link directly to our information systems so that they have all the information possible.
-We have extensive communication abilities through our Blackboard Connect system.
-Our leadership team recently met with regional safety and emergency agencies to improve safety.
-Our staff participates in ongoing safety seminars at the Ventura County Office of Education.
-We have the best staff in the state that always have their students’ safety as their primary focus.
My doctoral dissertation from UCLA is on school shootings. While conducting my research I visited Columbine and Thurston High School. I spoke extensively with the principals, teachers, counselors, support staff, psychologists and parents. My research and that of the leading national and international experts (The Secret Service) are consistent in their assessment that the best way to protect our schools is to be watchful and aware of people on campus each day and more importantly to know our students well and address mental health issues when known.
We invest time and energy in creating schools that are safe. We use research-validated programs such as the CHAMPS Program for Safe and Civil Schools, LINK Crew, Coyote Connection, Second Step (Violence Prevention) and Olweus Bully Prevention Programs in our schools to convey important social behaviors and skills to our students.
While our staff continues to build strong relationships with the students, these programs help us stay the course and use best practices to teach children how to handle conflict.
What can we all do to improve our children’s safety:
- Review the attached document from the LA County Sheriff's Department. It is full of valuable information.
- Ensure that your information (email, phone numbers, address) with us is current to maximize the effectiveness of our Communication system.
- Please sign up for the emergency communication/notification systems that the Sheriff and each city have in place.
- Treat each emergency drill seriously.
- Ensure there is an emergency flip chart in each class room, review it, and utilize it when appropriate.
- Safety is about relationship and connection. If friends, classmates, students, parents, relatives are struggling and isolated they need support and possibly professional help.
- Have emergency preparedness plans and supplies at home. Plans should include; how to communicate (text if phones are jammed), where to meet, and out of the area relatives to contact in emergency.
- Do not park in the red zones at our schools. I was at A.C. Stelle Middle School today (Sunday) and there were six cars parked in the red zone. Seconds matter when dealing with an emergency situation.
[Monday] your children will return to school the week before winter vacation. All of us will ensure that things are normal at school. All classes, events, celebrations, etc. should take place as usual. Even though it may be hard for us as adults, it is absolutely essential that our students see normalcy at school.
This week the Sheriff’s Department will increase their presence at our schools and our principals will be out, about and extra vigilant. It is important that all of our students in Las Virgenes know they are safe at school and recognize they are surrounded by caring adults who watch out for them, take care of and nurture them.
If there is anything you need let us know. We are here to support you.
Dr. Dan Stepenosky
Superintendent of Schools
Las Virgenes Unified School District