SUDBURY - A committee that examined high school safety finished its report this week, making recommendations on tracking student behavior, changing the weapons policy and identifying students who might pose a threat.
A committee that examined high school safety finished its report this week, making recommendations on tracking student behavior, changing the weapons policy and identifying students who might pose a threat.
The L-S Safety Committee was created after a student was fatally stabbed in a school bathroom in January. Another student, 16-year-old John Odgren, has been charged in the death and is awaiting trial.
The committee was told to review and make recommendations on the operational, physical and educational aspects of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School as they relate to the safety of students, faculty and staff.
The committee has met 16 times since March and spoke with school officials, the Lincoln and Sudbury police chiefs and the public. Although the preliminary report includes some recommendations, it is mostly a summary of discussions.
One set of recommendations to improve safety dealt with enhancing an existing system at the school. An electronic database, called iPASS, allows staff to report and track student behaviors, such as cutting class, assaulting another student or carrying a weapon.
"We encourage the administration to work with faculty and staff to improve the data collection and consider ways to explore iPASS. What we can tell is this data collection is important. Look at ways to do better in data collection," said Dennis Picker, chairman of the safety committee.
They also recommend training for teachers on the system, which would emphasize the value of recording certain types of student behavior. Authorities concede there is no profile for potentially violent students, but certain behavior may suggest the potential for violence, the committee said in its report.
"The point is you want people to buy into this system to collect more data on the students," said Karen Thomsen, a teacher and committee member.
As long as housemasters get the information, through the iPASS system, they can evaluate whether a student might be struggling, she said. Making sure they have that information is critical, the committee said.
The information recorded in the iPASS system would not only help identify students who might pose a threat, but it would also point out students who are simply struggling in some way.
"Not only are we looking at ways to respond to behavioral clues, but we're also proactive in helping students who struggle or are at risk," said Scott Carpenter, a housemaster and committee member.
The committee made additional recommendations having to do with identifying students who might pose a threat.
It recommended the School Committee budget for a biannual assessment of the health and safety of its students, such as the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey. The committee also recommended the school develop ways to promote trusting relationships between students and adults at L-S because that can help create a safe school.
The school's weapons policy was a topic of much discussion, but committee members were split on how it should be changed. Picker said they realized the complexity of the issue and could not reach a conclusion.
The committee did agree that the existing weapons policy is clear and there is no tolerance for the possession of a weapon, under any circumstances.
"The fact is the policy was in place when the events occurred and it didn't address the issue," said committee member Gary Taylor.
He referred to an incident last fall where Odgren turned over a knife to a school employee, but it was given back at the end of the day. The incident was never reported to a housemaster so that the student could be disciplined.
"The policy was not followed," committee member Hal Chapel said.
The committee does recommend that the School Committee and administration make changes to the weapons policy that would encourage more reporting of weapons and allow more discretion in how a student is disciplined.
For example, although every student caught with a weapon will go to an expulsion hearing, it does not mean they will be expelled. Staff can use discretion, depending on the circumstances, to suspend a student instead.
Another issue the safety committee tackled was access to the school building. The committee considered many ideas, including requiring visitors sign in at the main office, increasing the presence of campus aides, locking the building's doors, requiring visitors to wear ID badges and adding cameras.
"It became increasingly clear that our committee was not going to be able to consider the issues in this area thoroughly enough to make specific recommendations for inclusion in this report," the committee says in its report.
Members suggest the School Committee explore the idea with the L-S administration, as well as the Lincoln and Sudbury police departments.
The committee will be posting the full preliminary report on its Web site, www.lsrhs.net/community/safety/index.html, and encourages the public to comment. It will review the comments and decide on a next course of action this fall.
(Stacey Hart can be reached at 508-626-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)