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Tasmanian Researcher Visits RCPS to Study School Safety

Roanoke City Public Schools’ comprehensive and holistic approach to school safety recently gained the attention of one researcher across the Pacific Ocean.

Kate Dobson, who works for the Tasmanian Department for Education in Australia, visited RCPS in April to tour several schools and learn how RCPS is working to keep students and staff safe. Ms. Dobson is a recipient of Australia’s prestigious Churchill Fellowship, which allows recipients to travel overseas and research a topic of their choice. Ms. Dobson is studying how Tasmanian schools can enhance their school safety and has visited school divisions across the U.S. to learn about effective strategies in American schools.

During her visit to RCPS, Ms. Dobson met with security, technology, and communications staff to learn about RCPS’ layered approach to school safety. She also visited Monterey Elementary School and Noel C. Taylor Learning Academy to talk with administrators and see safety protocols in action. She noted security protocols that are common in all of RCPS’ schools, such as secure entry areas, visitor sign-in kiosks, and fencing, are not found in Tasmanian schools.

School shootings and attacks are less common in Tasmania than the U.S., so unified response plans and security measures are not as common, Ms. Dobson said. Her research focuses on ensuring her country’s schools can be prepared for the unexpected. In 2021, six Tasmanian students died after a strong gust of wind lifted a bouncy castle more than 30 feet in the air. Ms. Dobson said that having comprehensive response and reunification plans would have been extremely beneficial during that situation.

During her visit to the U.S., Ms. Dobson visited school districts in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Virginia, and Connecticut. In addition to RCPS, she met with Virginia Tech and schools in Northern Virginia.

"America is far better prepared,” Ms. Dobson noted. “Everyone [in America] is talking about the same things but have different approaches."

Ms. Dobson said she was impressed by RCPS’ organizational discipline and partnerships with local public safety agencies. She plans to incorporate in her research what she learned during her visit in Roanoke.

A year ago, RCPS began to implement more than 25 additional safety measures in addition to its existing comprehensive approach to school safety. Examples of new and existing safety measures shown to Ms. Dobson include:

  • Centralized communications during emergencies through RCPS’ mass notification system
  • Response plans hosted on an electronic site that first responders can access
  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), which uses environmental design and building features to keep students, staff, and visitors safe
  • Physical security measures, including fences/gates, secure entry areas, and locks that can be locked from the inside of a classroom
  • Professional learning and training related to school safety and emergency response
  • Use of metal detectors and artificial intelligence weapons detectors
  • Closure of previously open classroom areas
  • Panic alarm
  • School Resource Officers in every school
  • And more