Schools fail emergency prep check

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A state Department of Education official warned Brookhaven School District board members Tuesday night the district is violating state and federal regulations for emergency preparedness.

     The district’s maintenance director also informed board members of renovations planned to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

     Don Criswell, a school safety specialist with the Mississippi Department of Education, discussed with the full school board the results of a safety assessment performed from Feb. 22-24.

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     The assessment was performed at the request of Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya. Criswell warned that had it been an official inspection, the results would have been grim.

     “Had we showed up for an accreditation assessment, you would have failed,” Criswell said.

     Criswell said he found no district-wide response plan outlining the district’s procedures for responding to emergencies such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or an intruder on campus.

     Some schools within the district had, at the principal’s initiative, compiled a school emergency response plan. Criswell commended the principals that had done so, but noted these plans weren’t up to standards required by state and federal guidelines.

     Further, each school lacks a designated evacuation site.

     “If there’s a situation where you have to evacuate, you need to have a place to take everyone,” Criswell said. “I recommend you find a church or community center you can designate as the evacuation site for each school.”

     Criswell presented the board with a report outlining a number of other concerns, including the district’s lack of a policy pertaining to restraining and searching students, the ease of access into each school and the lack of visitor control.

     Also, while the district has four police officers assigned to it, Criswell said the district has no school resource officer.

     Police officers must undergo a 40 hour training course to be designated a resource officer. State law and the Department of Education mandates school police officers must be trained, Criswell said. The training is available free through the state Department of Education.

     “You’re taught how to interact with children,” Criswell said, describing the training. “Your job goes from being a police officer to then being a mentor, a role model, a teacher and then a police officer.”

     Criswell also expressed concerns about Mullins Alternative School.

     “I have some huge concerns about the efficiency of the facility,” Criswell said.

     In his report to the board, Criswell observed some student-teacher ratio issues. He also said it appeared that “very little ‘teaching’ was being done” during his visit.

     Criswell did praise the district’s facilities as clean and well maintained.

     The Department of Education offers free training for administrators and teachers, and will help bring the district into compliance, Criswell said.

     Karmacharya indicated that improvement efforts would be begin soon.

     “We will plan to begin a training process once state testing is over,” Karmacharya told Criswell and board members.

     Criswell believes the district can be brought into compliance by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

     “You saved yourself by getting us down here now,” Criswell said.

     On a similar note, Director of Maintenance Joe Morgan spoke to the board about planned renovations at the Brookhaven High School to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

     There is currently no handicapped access out of the back of BHS to the math and science building, band building and gymnasium, Morgan said. The issue is somewhat urgent as a student in a wheelchair will begin at BHS in August and will participate in the band.

     Morgan presented plans for a system of ramps and covered walkways to be constructed at BHS. When asked after the meeting, Morgan declined to provide estimates for the cost of the project.

     “We’re still working on that,” Morgan said.

     Morgan told the board the ramp and walkway will take care of about 60 percent of handicapped access violations at the high school, but added some issues will remain.

     “You have to comply with those things and if you don’t, you can get in major trouble,” Morgan said.

     On a more positive note, Patrick Lowery of Patrick E. Lowery and Associates presented the board with the results of his firm’s audit of the district for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 and reported no findings.