South Colonie has had a Safe Schools Plan in place since 2001. The lengthy report outlines in detail student behavior expectations and consequences for all grade levels. The plan is required of all school districts under Project SAVE legislation signed by Gov. George Pataki in 2000.
A South Colonie committee, which includes administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, students, citizens and local law enforcement, developed the plan over a 12-month period. The plan incorporates many of the district’s already existing policies regarding student behavior and expectations but brings it into alignment with precedent-setting legal cases and further rulings by the New York State Commissioner of Education.
Covering a broad range of issues
The Safe Schools Plan covers a broad range of issues including student behavior expectations and range of consequences, the removal of disruptive students from the classroom, attendance and discipline policies, student dress code and codes of conduct. Behavior expectations are broken down into three sections — grades K-4, middle school and high school.
New York State law through Project SAVE requires that the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability conduct fingerprint supported criminal history background checks for applicants for certification and all prospective employees of school districts, charter schools and BOCES. South Colonie's fingerprinting is provided through the Capital Region BOCES Office of Health/Safety/Risk Management. For more information on fingerprinting procedures and fees, click here (pdf).
What Else Does Project SAVE Require School Districts To Do?
In addition to developing a Safe Schools Plan and fingerprinting new employees, all school districts under the Project SAVE law are required to:
Grant teachers more authority to remove disruptive or violent students from the classroom.
Provide two hours of violence prevention and intervention training as part of the certification process for teachers, aides and administrators.
Devote part of one staff development day to safety training each year.
Integrate civilry, citizenship and character education into K-12 curriculum.
Increase the penalty for assault on school grounds from a misdemeanor to a felony.
File an annual report on all violent incidents to the NYS Commissioner of Education.
Safe Schools Committee
The district’s Safe Schools Committee is in place and actively monitoring district buildings and facilities. The role of the committee, made up of administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, police and citizens, is to continually review the district’s Safe Schools Plan for dealing with and avoiding a crisis. The committee has an Emergency Management Plan in place and comprehensive lock down drills are held throughout the year with the assistance of the Colonie Police Department so that everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency.
The metal detector debate
With the advent of modern technology, perhaps the first tool that comes to mind for preventing weapons from entering our schools, is metal detectors.
The use of metal detectors has been hotly debated — especially since the Columbine school tragedy in Colorado. In that case, however, metal detectors would not have prevented the shooting as the culprits marched on to the school property with guns blazing — killing many before turning the guns on themselves.
South Colonie has no metal detectors in place. The same is true of most schools in the area. In fact, the New York State School Boards Association has suggested that school districts move “cautiously” on such measures. School board members need to be aware that a policy decision to permit the use of metal detectors involves legal, psychological, financial and practical issues, the association holds.
Legally, metal detector searches have given rise to legal challenges under the Fourth Amendment. Psychologically, metal detectors in schools can lead students and staff to feel that schools are jail-like facilities instead of institutions of learning. Financially, walk-through and hand-held metal detectors can cost thousands of dollars. And practically, it is difficult to control every entrance and exit of a school if someone is REALLY determined to sneak in past the detectors. In lieu of metal detectors, South Colonie has many other programs and measures in place:
Tight school security
School security is a balancing act. The bottom line is that we must create an environment that’s safe and inviting to learn without building a fortress. If you’ve visited one of our schools you know that security is tight. Visitors are not allowed to walk freely throughout the buildings unchecked. Doors are kept locked and visitors are required to sign in at the main office.
All staff have security badges and monitors are stationed throughout the schools to keep a watch on the doors and suspicious activity. All new employees, including teachers, are fingerprinted before they are hired and extensive background checks on done by the State Education Department and FBI. Even our school buses have security cameras to keep them safe.
Tough policies and enforcement
The district’s Code of Conduct says that any student who brings a firearm on school property is automatically expelled from school for not less than one year.
A police presence
The district has always had a strong police presence in our schools from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in the middle schools to the Student Resource Officer (SRO) at Colonie Central High School.
A major part of the SRO’s day is spent walking through the halls greeting staff and students, dropping by the cafeteria, visiting study halls, in-school suspension rooms and classrooms by invitation. The idea is to get to know students and staff, learn more about school programs and policies and to be visible and accessible to everyone.
Building good character in children starts at a very early age. That’s what character education is all about. Character education is a curriculum aimed at promoting values of common decency, compassion, tolerance and good citizenship at all age levels. It is meant to complement the three “R’s,” technology and all of the other educational tools we use to produce successful graduates.
Teachers incorporate character development right into their lesson plans. In many buildings it starts with the morning assembly program where staff highlight a particular virtue through role-playing, instruction, song and discussion. Special guests help bring each virtue to life. A “word or quality of the month” is the focus in our schools and it is reinforced in the classrooms with special activities, readings, writing and art assignments, research, computer lessons and more. These qualities include responsibility, self-discipline, cooperation and friendship, among others.
Through character education, our elementary schools teach children to develop good self-esteem as a product of responsible behavior, assume responsibility for their actions, know right from wrong, respect the rights of others, maximize their own time and talents, work cooperatively with others, develop decision-making and problem-solving skills and resist negative peer pressure.