Gov. Patrick, MTA push school safety measures

Jean Fay Amherst ESP Jean Fay, who grew up in Newtown, CT, speaking at a school safety summit in 2013.

Governor Deval Patrick released a school safety report July 17 that offers 29 recommendations aimed at making elementary and secondary schools throughout the Commonwealth more adept at identifying hazards and handling emergencies.

The report spans topics from the emotional well-being of students to protocols for keeping students and staff safe when harmful intruders enter a school.

“Massachusetts is way ahead of the curve where school safety is concerned,” said Jean Fay, president of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association.

Fay represented the MTA on the School Safety and Security Task Force, which Patrick established by executive order in January. The task force was co-chaired by the state secretaries of education, public safety and health and human services and included police representatives, educators, legislators, emergency planners and a student.

Fay, a special education paraeducator in the Amherst Public Schools, said she believes she brought an important perspective to the work of the task force, namely that of the front-line school employee who is often “underrated or overlooked.”

“The support staff often lack training on safety protocols. I’m talking about food service workers and bus drivers, for example,” she said. “You can’t have a good safety plan and protocols unless all school employees are trained and there is buy-in by everyone.”

Fay’s observations are reflected in the task force’s recommendations, which call specifically for schoolwide preparedness training and periodic updates for support staff.

The report identified seven state-level actions, including funding for a school safety technical assistance team to assist schools in crafting individual safety plans.

District-level recommendations include emergency management teams that involve public safety and school officials; a ratio of one staff school psychologist for every 700 students in a district; several protocols addressing students’ emotional well-being; and comprehensive shelter and evacuation plans.

Patrick also announced that $200,000 is available through a grant program that schools can tap into for safety and security programs.

Similarly, a National Education Association Great Public Schools grant to the MTA will be used to promote Safe School Summits across Massachusetts.

Fay, who grew up in Newtown, CT, was one of the organizers of a Safe Schools Summit, held in Northampton in November, 2013. The daylong training program, presented by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office and co-sponsored by the MTA and the NEA, was designed to give educators the knowledge and tools they need to meet the needs of young people who are dealing with mental health issues. She will also lead a planning workshop on safe schools and campuses at this year’s MTA Summer Conference.

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