Hardening the Framingham School District — from the Outside

Developing safe schools within the Framingham, Mass., school district is a two-prong approach that includes a visitor management system and student IDs, but also a ‘social, emotional learning’ curriculum.

by Jim McKay / October 24, 2019

Hardening the schools from the outside and softening them on the inside might be a way to describe how the Framingham, Mass., school district is approaching school safety.

Among the new tools in the toolbox for hardening the schools is a gunshot-detection system, a visitor management system and ID badges for all students and staff. Once inside the schools, though, a “social-emotional learning” curriculum will teach coping skills and relationship skills. The district is rolling out this year an emotional learning curriculum to all elementary schools to teach kids how to cope emotionally.

The high school deployed the visitor management system and the badges to the approximately 2,200 students and staff and will deploy the gunshot-detection system as part of $7.2 million in grants from the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security with the Executive Office of Education.

The IDs will work on the card readers during certain timeframes during the day at some of the entrances to the school. After that window of time has passed, the only entrance available is the front one. The visitor management system works by allowing visitors in the front door, and once inside they must scan a government-issued ID to receive a sticker that goes on their person and allows them to proceed.

It’s a safety initiative spearheaded by Scott Penrod, now 11 months on the job as director of Safety and Security for the district. “My goal is safety and security for every student, faculty, guest and vendor who comes into our buildings,” Penrod said. “I want to harden the buildings, but I also want to make them welcoming.”

The plan is to observe how the visitor management system works at the high school level and, if things go well, deploy it at the middle school. If that happens, the system will be connected and if an intruder enters one school, the other will be notified.

The gunshot detection system will immediately notify the local police department and it integrates with alert system on campus as well. Penrod said the system is a start and can be built upon. “We picked this one because as we can build on it and don’t have to put things off until next year after we have the money. It’s not a one-and-done kind of thing.”

Penrod said he’s not trying to build a fortress, and in fact, the students appreciate the efforts to keep them safe. “They have their IDs and there hasn’t been a lot of pushback,” he said. “The students understand, especially at the high school, that this is real, things can happen and we’re doing things to make them safer.”

Judy Styer, director of health and wellness at Framingham schools, said the concept of social emotional learning is gaining in popularity within school districts across the country and comes from an organization called the Center for Academic and Social Emotional Learning.

The movement seeks to develop the process by which students, and adults as well, understand and manage emotions, set positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain relationships and make responsible decisions.

“We’re pretty much aligned with that and have added academic efficacy to our list of competencies,” Styer said. “We’re rolling out social emotional learning curriculum to all our elementary schools to begin to teach children how to develop those competencies.”

She said research shows that teaching these competencies provides a lot of benefits to kids as far as being successful in school and beyond. Styer said she considers mental health a “different piece of the puzzle. We are investigating ways to educate our students about mental health issues to reduce the stigma.”

The district has implemented reentry programs that provide support and interventions for students returning from hospitalizations in two of its schools with hopes of expanding to other schools. And part of the goal of creating a safe and supporting learning environment at the schools is adjusting the code of conduct to reflect more of a “restorative” piece, a social emotional curriculum that seeks to keep kids from becoming isolated.

Research also shows that developing a safe and supportive learning environment and responding to infractions of the rules in a way that is supportive and provides interventions and is not punitive provides the students an ability to change.

“Kids who break the rules are struggling with something and the behavior is a response that something isn’t right,” Styer said. “There’s probably .1 percent of 1 percent of kids who are really intent on being hurtful but most kids when are reacting to something when they’re behavior is out of control.”

She said that’s an important factor to contemplate when discussing the possibility of a school shooter and the profile of someone who could do that — usually someone who has been isolated. The school’s mission continues to be to educate the student but also find ways to keep them in the community rather than push them away.

The goal for the code of conduct is to “level” interventions to fit the infraction. “There are really a lot of minor infractions in schools all the way up to really bad ones, where laws are broken,” Styer said. “The new code of conduct of character and support will be a detailed road map for folks so that when there is behavior that needs to be addressed, it will be clear what the interventions are at each level of infraction.”

 

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