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Blue Ridge Practices Reunification Plans In Times of School-Wide Crisis

By: Maxton Ksenich/Visual Media Editor

Have you ever wondered how school students are accounted for following a school crisis or school emergency?

Schools across the country implement plans to deal with all types of situations from natural disasters to acts of violence, now they are also practicing how to reunify parents and students if an emergency occurs during the school day.

According to Matthew Nebzydoski, “If an emergency event were to occur, such as a natural disaster or other threat to school safety, it is important that Blue Ridge has a structured process in place to reunite students with their families as efficiently and safely as possible.”

In January of this year, Blue Ridge administrators, staff and local emergency personnel teamed up to practice how they might reunite parents with their children in an emergency event.

For the purpose of this drill, Blue Ridge employees were told to imagine that a freight train had derailed, spilling harmful chemicals and resulting in a closure of roads that provide access to the school.  The goal of the drill was to keep students safe and reunite them safely with their parents or guardians.

Teachers were split into groups and each played the role of teacher, student, parent or unifier. Meanwhile administrators and law enforcement set up an incident command center in the main office, while office staff set up tables in the front lobby to create a parent/guardian greeting area for student pick-up.

As those playing a parent or guardian came to pick up their child, office staff then sent a runner to retrieve the person playing that student from the area where their class was sheltered. The school’s Sapphire student information system was used to sign out the pretend student and parent and child were reunited.

According to Nebzydoski, Blue Ridge’s reunification method is modeled after the standard reunification method from the I Love U Guys Foundation.

The foundation’s founders, Ellen and John-Michael Keyes, started the organization following a school shooting that took the life of their daughter, Emily.

Research by the foundation identified reunification following a crisis as a school safety gap. Foundation members and employees collaborated and researched ways to address the gap and came up with what they call the Standard Reunification Method.

According to the I Love U Guys Foundation: “Without a plan to reunite students and parents, we exacerbate the stress and potential trauma of the crisis itself and we jeopardize the responsibility of the school and district in maintaining the chain of custody for every student. No school is immune to emergencies; fires, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, power outages, bomb threats, acts of violence… this is just a short list of events that could initiate a release and reunification for a school or district.”

Danelle Decker, the principal of BRSD’s elementary school, said about the drill: “We are all figuring this out, it’s almost like an experiment to work out the kinks and keep our school as safe as possible.”

Local emergency response team members attending the drill include: Susquehanna County Sheriff, Lance Benedict, Chief Sheriff, Jon Record, School Resource Officer, Greg Deck, and 911 operation Chief, Nathan Wallace.

AW7A1344

For more information about reunification plans https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/reunification.html.

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