There has been a lot of attention on the safety and security of our public schools.
In January, following the false missile alert, questions surfaced about HIDOE’s readiness for a nuclear attack. Under the advisement of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, our schools were provided guidance on sheltering in place. Our Safety, Security and Preparedness Branch also met with schools to assist principals in locating appropriate spaces for sheltering in place.
The safety and security for students and staff are top priorities for HIDOE schools. All of our schools are annually required to perform five emergency preparedness drills and shelter in place is one of those exercises (see video, below). The other four drills are: lockdown, evacuation, tsunami and earthquake. Schools are also required to create and update their own safety plans, which are reviewed by the Emergency Management Office.
In February, the security of our schools came under scrutiny following the mass shooting in Florida. The 17 lives lost in that massacre left many of our students, staff and parents shaken. Across the country, school districts are dealing with rumors or threats being made against school campuses. HIDOE faced more than a dozen threats causing disruption and a strain on administrative and police resources. One of the greatest challenges being faced by our schools and law enforcement are the threats that are made on social media.
On Feb. 23, I joined the Honolulu Police Department in a news conference to address the seriousness of these threats. Individuals connected to a threat can face criminal charges of terroristic threatening along with school discipline, including suspension.
Police officials reinforced the fact that our schools are safe. The well-being of our students is a community effort and it takes all of us to keep all of our students safe.
School districts are now dealing with a rise of student-led civic engagement efforts and actions, including the idea of school walkouts. HIDOE supports students’ Constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free expression. Our goal in responding to walkout plans and other forms of peaceful assembly is to support student and staff safety and keep the focus on teaching and learning.
What we hope to gain from these experiences are student voices that help to shape how we can better design schools with safety in mind.
Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto