Park City School District emphasizes mental health, security after Florida school shooting
When the news started spreading about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14, it seemed that every community was shaken. Thousands of miles away in Park City, Superintendent Ember Conley reminded the community in a statement that prioritizing mental health is key to decreasing the risk of those situations happening.
Conley has emphasized the ideal of safe and healthy schools throughout the school year. The Park City School District has hired more counselors at the schools and a student wellness coordinator. It contracted a consultant to investigate security in the schools, and the students, faculty and staff have been doing lockout drills.
Conley said that the issue of gun violence in schools is multi-faceted and that there are many ways that it can be addressed. But for her, helping students who are suffering with mental health issues or trauma is near the top of the list.
“It goes back to teaching students resiliency, teaching students self-help skills, teaching students how to get help,” she said. “So much of this is preventable.”
Caleb Fine, assistant principal at Park City High School, said that training and drilling safety protocols is important, but he agrees that addressing the issue before it can escalate is preferred.
“If we can keep it from happening, all of our reactive measures don’t have to go into place,” he said.
Fine said that, in the past, the school has discussed having home room time in which students are divided into small classes and teachers guide discussions about self-reflection and how to deal with failure. Some students requested the time last year, and after the shooting in Florida, Fine said that the discussion is on the table again.
While Fine said that he is proud to see what has been done in the district and at the school — a district intervention counselor was hired, which freed up the high school counselor, for instance — there is still more to be done.
“Being ahead of the curve does not guarantee that your school is immune to a tragedy, so you have to continue to look for proactive ways to positively impact students,” he said.
While prevention is the district’s main focus, Conley also knows that security is critical as well. According to the district’s Twitter account, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Park City Police Department are increasing their presence in and around schools as a precaution.
Last month, the Park City Board of Education hired Cole Smith from the Tresit Group in Logan to review the district’s safety systems and processes.
Smith, who visited the district and observed drills on Feb. 1, said that the district is one of the most proactive in the state when it comes to safety and security but he agrees that more can be done.
He has advised the district on the designs of its front office vestibules, which it began installing at elementary schools this school year. The vestibules require all visitors to check in at the front office before entering a school. He and his group are also reviewing how schools manage visitors in the school. He was set to present his findings and recommendations to the Board of Education on Tuesday night.
Smith said that his goal is to make sure that plans are in place for when emergency situations occur, and that faculty and staff are ready to act when they need to.
“At the end of the day, we want the teacher in the farthest away classroom to feel confident and empowered to make decisions when bad things happen,” he said.
Conley said that confidence is important because every situation is different and teachers need to be ready to use their rationale to think on their toes.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.