With news of school shootings and other tragedies coming more and more often, administrators and staff members of Marietta Public Schools have stepped up their game when it comes to keeping the campus and its students safe.

According to Superintendent Brandi Naylor, the school has adopted a new safety program with an important goal.

“There’s no doubt that we need to respond well when a tragedy occurs,” she said, “but we are going to take action to prevent those situations from occurring.”

They’ve started with the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s “Programs of Excellence for Safe and Healthy Schools,” which addresses multiple areas of health and physical environment. But they didn’t stop with that implementation. They’ve taken further steps to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on campus.

One important step towards campus safety is the formation of a Safety and Health Committee, made up of students, parents, staff members, counselors, and health services representatives. The committee is chaired by Assistant High School Principal Michael Oakley and the school’s Resource Officer Brett Harris.

“The goal of the committee is to promote safety, health and wellness throughout the entire school system,” said Harris.

The two recently took some time from their busy schedules to fill me in on recent changes as well as upcoming activities, all aimed at making the campus a safer place.

 Current activities

State law requires that schools observe safety drills each semester to prepare for emergencies like fires, tornadoes, and security issues. Marietta Public Schools is no different.

High school, middle school, and elementary school buildings have locked security doors that must be unlocked from the inside for any visitors to the campus. Entrance is allowed only through the front doors.

“For high and middle schools, there is no exiting or entering through any door except the front door,” said Oakley, “which allows us to better keep track of who is in our buildings at any given time.”

The classroom buildings have also implemented a visitor’s badge. I was issued the badge when I entered, and I returned it to the office as I left.

“We can’t keep kids safe when we have people in our buildings who we can’t identify,” Oakley remarked.

The high school has also implemented a policy this year that all bags and backpacks must be left in lockers.

“This removes possible threats from the classrooms,” said Harris, “as well as keeping the aisles clear in case an emergency exit is necessary.”

Over the summer, a lightning strike took out some of the school’s camera system. The insurance proceeds allowed the district to purchase a new system with more cameras and better resolution. The greater bandwidth of the new system allows the school to store footage for a much longer time. Remote camera feeds enable administrators and Harris to know what’s going on inside buildings and out.

“We’re also in the process of adding more cameras to the system,” said Oakley, “which will allow us to keep an eye on what’s happening on more of our campus.”

There are other benefits to the new cameras.

“If we receive a tip of student behavior that’s alarming, the cameras and remote access allow us to find that student and track the behavior,” said Harris.

The high school parking system has been revamped. In past years, students were issued placards that hung from the rearview mirror but could be easily switched from one vehicle to another. Now there is a sticker that affixes to the automobile’s window.

“When I drive through the parking lot, if I see a sticker, I know that vehicle is an MHS student with a valid license and insurance, so it’s much easier to detect vehicles that should not be in the parking lot,” Harris remarked, “and it’s a better way of knowing who should and shouldn’t be on campus.”

Future plans

The committee is planning a training session, led by Watchmen Defense, LLC, a company owned by active law enforcement officers. Watchmen Defense provides schools with what they need to become prepared for a mass casualty incident, and they’re backed by over 25 years of law enforcement experience and training.

“Prior to the training, Watchmen Defense will conduct an assessment of our campus to evaluate our areas of strength and weakness,” said Oakley, “and during the training, they will emphasize communication, which will help us to update our written emergency operations plan.

“During the training, they will also teach us to watch for signs of troublesome student behavior that might help us to prevent an incident.”

Another thing the school is looking into is called a Rave Panic Button, which is an alert system paid for by OSDE.

“Rave is a downloadable phone app that links teachers, administrators, our E-911 office and law enforcement,” said Harris. “Anyone who has the app can send an emergency message to dispatchers who will alert the necessary parties of the situation and deploy the necessary response.”

A big part of the safety plan, both current and future, is communication.

“We’re realizing that there are areas in our safety plan where we do a great job with communication, and places where we need to improve,” Oakley said. “It’s definitely something that we are going to continue to work on.”

As the budget allows, the safety committee will be adding other measures, and will continue to seek out ways to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to campus safety.

“Our aim is to learn to prevent bad situations when possible and to know exactly how to react when it’s not possible,” said Oakley. “The bottom line is that we want to prepare ourselves as well as we can to keep our kids as safe as we can.”