Students in Western New York have been back in the classroom for about a month.
From laptops and bus apps to revamped buildings and food trucks, there’s a lot of new this year.
But arguably most important are safety procedures.
The concern for school safety seems to grow every year as do the fears of another school shooting.
They’re events which are hard to predict and to prepare for.
This year, the Superintendent of Niagara Falls City Schools is making major changes.
The first thing he tells students: be aware of your surroundings.
“Who the faces are? Who the people are? Where are exits? What are plans? You have to have a certain sense of where you are, with whom you’re at and what you need to do in case of an emergency,” said Superintendent Mark Laurrie.
New this year, the number of armed school resource officers patrolling the schools has increased to four. Two are in the high school, and one each patrol the middle schools.
A bulletproof film is being added along library windows and all exterior windows.
And already this month, schools in the district have completed more than 11 rounds of training with teachers, who will then pass their knowledge to students.
Any threat is taken seriously.
“We are at a point where humorous, off the cuff remarks are taken fully serious. We investigate those thoroughly. We speak with law enforcement regularly,” said Laurrie.
In a report last year on News 4, we highlighted and tested the effectiveness of bulletproof backpacks.
Sales were on the rise across the country.
Laurrie says bulletproof backpacks aren’t something he’s embraced, but he understands why some feel the need for them.
“I’m definitely open to ideas on what we can do to feel safer or be safer,” said Becky Hedgepeth, a Niagara Falls parent.
Becky Hedgepeth has five kids
All of them have walked the halls of Niagara Falls city schools.
She’s thankful the school takes safety seriously, but she’s worried about the delivery of the message.
“As we do it, I hope we remember that these are little people that are going to go home and then they’re going to have a hard time going to sleep at night because they’re going to be thinking about what could possibly happen,” said Hedgepeth.
She says there’s no way to sugarcoat things.
“When you talk about human evil, I think that’s 10 times scarier,” said Hedgepeth.
But the conversation has to start somewhere.
“I feel like the school does what it can but really the home needs to be the place where we talk through things and every single day we go through the backpack and all the papers and we talk to the child. It’s very important to me to be there and talk about the things that they’re going through,” said Hedgepeth.
Laurrie said the district is taking a two-fold approach.
They’re staying physically prepared but they’re also paying close attention to the mental health of students.
“The hard stuff that you need to have to keep the facility safe and secure is just as important as the soft side about knowing the people who are in your schools, knowing what’s going on with kids and families and having constant communication. We’ve done a good job of preparing and balancing those two factors,” said Laurrie.”
Laurrie urges people to talk to the district directly about issues or concerns rather than post their concerns on social media.