On a Wednesday morning in January, 2017, Unified Police recommended that Midvale Elementary go on "shelter in place" while they responded to reports of a bank robbery near the school.

All students were already safe inside their classrooms, busy learning as usual and largely oblivious to the safety protocol, which lasted all of 20 minutes. Had any students or faculty been outside on the playground, Principal Chip Watts and his administrative team would have calmly escorted them back inside the building and directed them to return to class before locking the doors and notifying parents. School would have carried on as it always does with students free to move about the building, enjoy lunch with friends, and visit the Media Center or Main Office.

“The whole point behind a shelter-in-place protocol is to safeguard students without interrupting instruction or causing them worry,” Watts says. “When done right, it should feel to students like just another great day to be a Mustang.”

Put simply, shelter-in-place is a precaution taken to keep staff and students safe indoors when there is a hazard outside the school building, such as a police action in the neighborhood, or extreme weather.  In such instances, Canyons District will immediately notify parents by phone or email, and instruct them to avoid coming to campus to collect their children until further notice. Rushing to campus during an emergency protocol can impede law enforcement, put adults in harm’s way, and be unnerving for students.  Screen Shot 2019 02 05 at 3.13.37 PM

To parents and families, it can be unsettling to receive a shelter-in-place notice from their child’s school, especially in light of heightened awareness over school safety. “What parent hasn’t felt a pang of worry as they watch their child walk from sight. It’s hard when you’re not around to protect them,” says CSD’s Responsive Services Director BJ Weller. “But as parents, it’s important for us to remain calm and use care when talking to our children about emergencies. Children are intuitive and take cues from us, and sometimes our voices or faces betray our fears, which then rub off on our kids.”

The reality is that schools are the safest places for children—at all times, including during an emergency—and they’re getting safer. It is, in fact, because they are safe havens for learning that they are often called upon to serve as the linchpin of a community’s response to an array of emergencies, from earthquakes to hazardous spills, says CSD’s Risk Management Coordinator Kevin Ray. “In an emergency, I can’t think of a safer place for children than their neighborhood school.”

Screen Shot 2019 02 05 at 3.13.50 PMCSD is committed to preserving school climates where students feel welcome, cared for and safe. The shelter-in-place protocol, for example, was designed as a less-intrusive alternative to lockdowns, which entail locking interior doors, shutting off all lights and taking cover.

“Lockdowns, which are reserved for immediate threats on a campus, save lives, and Canyons District will always err on the side of safety,” Ray says. “But whenever we enact a protocol we also have to consider the disruption it can cause. If we can keep students and employees safe and comfortable by other means, we do.”

This is also why Canyons focuses not just on outfitting facilities with modern security features but also on fortifying the social-emotional needs of children. Through Weller’s Responsive Services Department, all CSD schools have been assigned a school psychologist and/or a counselor and social worker — all highly trained professionals who can help guide students through challenging emotions.

Building a positive climate, where all children feel like they are vital and valued members of the school community, is a top priority of principals and teachers. CSD embraces a philosophy of teaching appropriate and positive behaviors instead of punishing misbehaviors. Schools also work to set consistent rules and expectations and keep classrooms free from bullying and discrimination. “Learning can only happen in an environment where students feel safe, and building a climate of predictability is part of that,” Weller says.

Predictability is another good argument for regularly conducting carefully-planned safety drills, which empower students to take action in an emergency and ease the stress of going through a real-life emergency. “Our aim is to maintain environments where children feel safe to develop interests, raise their hands, reach out to new friends, and know they are surrounded by caring adults,” Weller says.

Parents can help by familiarizing themselves with CSD’s emergency protocols and emergency drill schedule. Please tell your child that the most important thing to do in an emergency is to follow the directions of their teachers and school staff. It’s important to reassure them and let them know that you have confidence in the training that school staff have received.

And, please remember if you see or hear something that makes you feel unsafe, report it to your school principal or through the anonymous crisis and safety tipline, SafeUT.

Sandra Dahlhoulihan was in her office trying to squeeze in some paperwork before school let out for the day when she heard the fire alarm. 


“Instinctively, I knew it was the real deal,” says the former Sandy Elementary principal who grabbed her walkie talkie and strode into the hallway where she immediately detected the oaky scent of smoke. The entire school, the staff and teachers, sprang into action and began quickly and calmly evacuating classrooms, sweeping the building and making sure everyone was accounted for.

“Most of the kids assumed it was another drill,” recalls Dahlhoulihan, now an administrator in Canyons District’s Human Resources Department. “It all transpired so fast. You plan for something like this, and hope it never actually happens. But because we had practiced the procedures, everyone knew exactly what to do."

Happily, school fires have become increasingly rare. Modern construction materials and fire suppression technologies have contributed to a dramatic drop in all structure fires and fire related deaths and injuries in the United States. But these trends, while comforting, shouldn’t lull schools into a false sense of security, says Canyons District Risk Manager Kevin Ray. “Until the risk is zero, schools absolutely need to practice responding to fires.” 

In accordance with state law and Canyons District’s Emergency Response Plan—and in conjunction with National Preparedness Month in September—the first two months of each school year are set aside for fire drills. In the coming weeks, postcards will be mailed to all Canyons District families with an explanation of what happens during a fire drill and steps the District takes to communicate in emergencies. Canyons also has launched a new “Think Safe” webpage and instructional video with the aim of starting a community conversation about how everyone, from students and teachers to parents, can work together to keep schools welcoming, secure and prepared.

“As any educator or parent knows, children can only learn where they feel cared for and safe. Safety has always been a priority of Canyon District’s administration, and we are continually looking for ways to make our schools even safer,” says CSD’s Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe.  

 

All Canyons District schools practice lockdown and shelter-in-place drills throughout the year, in addition to preparing for a host of other threats, from earthquakes to hazardous materials. Secondary schools participate in these drills on a quarterly basis. Elementary schools hold drills at least once a month with fire drills being the most frequent. 

An estimated 4,000 school building fires are reported each year by American fire departments, causing 75 injuries on average and $66 million in property damage. Most fires in elementary schools start in the kitchen, whereas in middle and high schools, they are predominantly human-caused and set intentionally or unintentionally by students. 

Such was the case at Sandy Elementary where a student, experimenting with a lighter obtained from home, set fire to a coat that was hanging on a coat rack above a recycling bin full of paper. The student had lingered behind classmates who were exiting a computer lab and secretly set the blaze on his way out of the room. It didn’t take long for the flames to spread and trigger the school’s alarm and sprinkling system. 

“Most of the damage we sustained was water damage,” Dahlhoulihan says. The District had to suspend school for a day to assess the damage and temporarily relocate two classrooms to the gymnasium. The repairs were substantial and costly, and it took about three weeks before the classrooms were ready for use. 

Looking back now, Dahlhoulihan says she learned a great deal from the experience. The fire happened on a Wednesday afternoon in November, 2011. Luckily, the weather that day was unseasonably warm. Had it been chillier outside, or had the fire happened earlier in the day, it would have been more difficult to keep students comfortable and reunify them with families, Dahlhoulihan says. “We would have had to find safe spaces to keep the students warm and occupied and bring in snacks and water.”

Every crisis is unique and brings to light unforeseen snags, which is why it’s important to put response plans to the test through simulated events, or regular emergency drills, Dahlhoulihan says. “After the fire, and another incident we had that year, we developed more detailed plans for clearing and sweeping the building, assisting students with special needs, and documenting the location of our roving support staff. Safety became a priority at our school, and not just for fires, but for anything that could happen.”
Halloween may be the spookiest night of the year, but not for the reasons many parents think.

While families fret about stranger danger and America's sugar-fueled obesity epidemic, the most pressing danger is auto-pedestrian accidents. Pedestrian fatalities nearly double on Halloween, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation: 30 percent of all crash fatalities on Oct. 31 involve pedestrians, compared to 16 percent on an average day.

The heightened risk stems from the combination of having fewer daylight hours in the fall with still relatively warm temperatures, which translates to busier sidewalks and crosswalks, says Canyons District's Risk Management Coordinator Kevin Ray. "These accidents are heartbreaking and 100 percent preventable, which is why we ask drivers and pedestrians to be extra vigilant this time of year."

Ray recommends that trick-or-treaters wear brightly-colored costumes, carry flashlights or glow sticks, and be sure to make eye-contact with drivers before crossing the street. "When it's dark, it can be difficult to see drivers' faces, which is why it's best to assume they haven't seen you unless they've come to a full stop."

Following are a few more tips to keep your costumed superheroes and princesses safe.

For drivers:
  • Put the phone down!
  • Stay well below the posted speed limit.
  • Pay attention to what's happening on sidewalks and roadways. Watch for children darting across streets, especially between parked cars.
  • Be extra alert when pulling in and out of driveways.
  • Do not assume children can see you or are paying attention.
  • Do not pass other vehicles that have stopped in the roadway. They could be dropping off children.
  • If you are driving to a Halloween party, put that mask on after you park the car.

For trick-or-treaters:
  • Make sure drivers see the children. Give them flashlights and glow sticks. Dress kids in bright, reflective clothing or use reflective tape on their costumes.
  • Use makeup rather than masks, so children have a clear unobstructed view of their surroundings.
  • Be sure children know how to cross a street —look left, right, and left again before crossing.
  • Instruct children to stay on sidewalks and to cross only at corners or crosswalks.
  • Accompany your children as they trick-or-treat.

School children on parade through the halls of elementary schools in the Canyons School District
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  • Can adding daylight to children’s daily diet of reading, writing and arithmetic boost student achievement?

    It may sound far-fetched, but “daylighting” — or the addition of windows, skylights and full spectrum lighting — is catching on as a powerful and relatively inexpensive way to improve the learning environment at schools. Motivated by research showing how light is critical for the productivity and well-being of students and school employees, the Canyons Board of Education has proposed a tax-rate-neutral bond that, among other things, would be used to add large windows and skylights to 18 elementary schools in all corners of the District.

    When Canyons was created, it inherited aging schools from a previous school district. Some have so many safety, seismic and other structural and technological deficiencies, according to a group of independent engineers, that they need to be rebuilt. “Learning can only happen in an environment where children feel cared for, secure and comfortable,” says CSD’s Facilities Director Rick Conger.

    Other schools still have years of life in them, but were designed in such a way that they don’t allow in much light. These schools were built in the 1960s and 1970s at a time when open classrooms were in vogue, explained CSD’s Facilities Director Rick Conger. Classrooms back then were divided by partitions or bookshelves, instead of walls, giving them a cozy living-room-like atmosphere conducive to hands-on, collaborative learning. As such, light was able to easily filter through the school. Screen_Shot_2017-10-04_at_1.13.40_PM.png

    But over the years, as teachers found the open design to be noisy and disruptive, walls were added, thereby closing many classrooms off to fresh air and natural light. “Open designs still have a place in education,” notes Conger. “There’s actually been a resurgence of interest in group learning and experiential forms of instruction. But the key is building classrooms to support all types of instruction, including group learning and traditional lectures. Today’s designs feature moveable partitions and modular furniture. They are built for flexibility.”

    Today’s schools also are constructed to infuse classrooms with loads of light. While research on non-traditional forms of instruction is mixed, there’s growing consensus on the benefits of light. 

    A recent study published in the Building and Environment Journal found that classroom design choices, such as lighting, can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 percent. In another 2003 study, cited by the U.S. Department of Education, classrooms with the most daylight had a 20 percent better learning rate in math and 26 percent improved rate in reading when compared to classrooms with little to no natural light.

    There’s also data suggesting large windows with views of outdoor greenery can lower the stress and mental fatigue of students and improve the productivity of teachers. And that’s without considering the indirect environmental health benefits of newer, more energy efficient lighting fixtures.

    Light, of course, makes it easier to perceive what’s going on around us. It controls the body’s circadian system, or sleep-wake cycles, and has an influence on the body’s secretion of hormones affecting cognitive performance, writes Anjali Joseph, Ph.D. for the Center for Health Care Design. For these reasons, and more, many states and municipalities require that inpatient hospital rooms have windows.

    “There's a lot of research to show that when paired with evidenced-based instruction, well-designed school environments can positively influence student learning,” says CSD’s Instructional Supports Director Amber Roderick-Landward.
    Boo! It’s the spookiest night of the year. But to avoid a night of real-life horrors this Halloween and keep your little ghouls and goblins safe, we offer these Trick-or-Treating tips, courtesy of Canyons District’s Risk Management Coordinator Kevin Ray:


    HALLOWEEN DRIVING TRICKS TO KEEP EVERYONE SAFE

    • Put the phone down!
    • Stay well below the posted speed limit.
    • Pay attention to what’s happening on sidewalks and roadways. Watch for children darting across streets, especially between parked cars.
    • Be extra alert when pulling in and out of driveways.
    • Do not assume children can see you or are paying attention.
    • Do not pass other vehicles that have stopped in the roadway. They could be dropping off children.
    • If you are driving to a Halloween party, put that mask on after you park the car.

    TIPS FOR THOSE ON THE ROAD IN SEARCH OF ‘TREATS’

    • Make sure drivers see the children. Give them flashlights and glow sticks. Dress kids in bright, reflective clothing or use reflective tape on their costumes.
    • Use makeup rather than masks, so children have a clear unobstructed view of their surroundings.
    • Be sure children know how to cross a street —look left, right, and left again before crossing.
    • Instruct children to stay on sidewalks and to cross only at corners or crosswalks.
    • Accompany your children as they trick or treat.

    Note to CSD employees: Trick-or-treaters can start their night of sugar-fueled merry-making at Canyons District's two administration buildings, CAB-East and CAB-West. Employees can bring their costumed little ones to the District Offices between 2:30 and 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31 to make their way from office to office to fill their bags with treats.