On Wednesday, all of Bartlesville Public Schools will reopen for students after closing early for the winter break because of what police and school officials called a “series of troubling incidents.”
Brent Bloom has three young girls enrolled in Bartlesville Schools, and two weeks ago he was on edge after a series of threats to school district students resulted in classes being canceled for all 6,000 students.
“I was glad they took a day off to do some investigating, of course I was concerned,” Bloom said.
First, 18 year-old Sammie Chavez was accused of plotting to shoot students at Bartlesville High School. School officials say Chavez was trying to recruit kids to lure classmates into the school auditorium, and police say Chavez claimed he'd place bombs at school doors. Then days later, another student reports seeing an SUV near campus with what they suspected to be a rifle.
Both incidents came just days after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It's kind of surreal; it's kind of hard to believe that it could have happened here,” Bloom said.
Over the holiday break, Bartlesville school officials and police walked through each and every school district building so they could see if there are any design flaws that could pose a security risk when students return to classes.
“I have faith in our police department and our administration that they're doing everything they can to make that it's safe,” the father of three told FOX23.
In a note to parents, the district said it will review each school's safety plan with staff and faculty very soon. In the meantime, parents like Bloom say they're not worried about sending their kids back to school; they just want to make sure the district stays in front of the issue.
“It's probably going to take some time, a lot of meetings on what they're going to do. I am sure they're going to put some things in place,” Bloom said.
Here is the complete text of the letter that was sent to parents in the Bartlesville School District about school safety:
Dear BPSD Parents and Patrons,
I hope you have had a great break with your children. This is a special time of the year in many respects.
One of the most important elements of a break is the opportunity to spend quality time with our families, especially our children.
As you know, we had a threat in the Bartlesville Public School District prior to break. The Bartlesville Police Department and the BPSD have continued to examine district safety to assure our students are safe.
Over the break, we have had a full assessment done of both Bartlesville High School and Bartlesville Mid High by a safety expert, the Bartlesville Police Department, the Bartlesville Fire Department, Washington County Emergency Management, BPSD Safe and Drug Free Schools Coordinator, our School Resource Officer, BPSD Maintenance staff and BPSD principals.
In addition to assessments at BHS and BMHS, Bartlesville Police walked through all district school buildings and gave recommendations for improved safety and security. We will be incorporating their recommendations for both improved safety procedures and building security.
BPSD administrators also met with the City Manager and Bartlesville Police Department personnel. The City Manager could not have been more willing to assist the school district to assure our students’ safety. In cooperation with the City of Bartlesville and the BPD, it was agreed that there will be a strong police presence throughout the district as classes resume on January 2.
BPSD is working with the Bartlesville Police Department to hire off-duty police officers to be located throughout the district as students return. January 2 will also be the official start date for our School Resource Officer, which is being provided by the City of Bartlesville and the Bartlesville Police Department.
Each school site has a Safe School Committee. There is also a District Safe School Committee. The committees have been in place for several years and meet on a regular basis at each site to discuss safety plans. Each site also has a Safety Management Plan.
We have asked our District Safe School Committee and the Safe School Committee from each site to schedule a meeting as school resumes. We are asking them to review their Site Safety Plans and implement any possible improvements.
While we have locks on all classrooms, we have ordered improved locks for some classrooms to allow teachers more ease in locking the classroom door quickly.
Many of you may know that we have been improving safety and security at our schools over the past several years. We have developed secured entrances with a buzzer and camera at all schools. All other doors are locked. Everyone must be buzzed in the front door; sign-in, wear a visitor ID badge and sign back out. Most of our schools now have entrances that require visitors to pass through the office when they are buzzed into the building.
BPSD has an excellent working relationship with our local police department. We work closely with the BPD as they help us with our safety plans and various district wide events such as Walk to School Day.
Through a grant, we have invested in radios for all BPSD administrators that enable them to communicate with local emergency agencies in times of need.
We have a local Student Crime Stoppers program that allows students or patrons to inform the police of activities that need to be investigated.
Over the last few years, we have added fences around all elementary schools. This has increased the safety of our elementary students. We also have security cameras in our secondary buildings which allow us to identify concerns.
Despite all the safety and security measures we have in place and those we are implementing, we strongly believe that the most important element to keeping our schools safe is the relationship we have with our students, parents and community. When our students feel safe enough to share information with an adult about a potential threat to the safety of our students, it allows us an opportunity to intervene and to address the issue immediately. We will continue to fully investigate every concern that a student, parent or patron brings to us.
By our community working together, we will continue to make our school district a safe place for our students. We take this responsibility extremely seriously and will do everything in our power to assure the safety of our most important resource, our children.
Dr. Gary W. Quinn