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A Letter to our Independence Families about School Safety
Hello Independence families,

As I sit at my kitchen table and write to you, I hear my three kids playing in their rooms.  Dinner is in the oven.  My family is happy and healthy. I realize so many dads in Parkland, Florida cannot say that same thing after last week’s tragedy.  Neither can many dads in Sandy Hook, or Chardon, or any of the other places where senseless and evil school violence has taken the lives of children.

I’m not going to write to you about politics or gun control or mental health.  I have my thoughts on those, but as your Superintendent, it is my job to make sure our schools are as safe as can be, our students are receiving the supports they need, and we provide the best education possible.  I write to you now as your Superintendent.

School safety has always been a passion of mine.  When I was the principal at IMS, I worked with our School Resource Officer Sergeant Borowy, Mr. McGuinness, and Mrs. Ipsaro to bring the ALICE framework and training to our school district.  Since then, our entire staff has been trained and we repeatedly conduct school safety drills.  Our teachers and students regularly practice lockdown and evacuations;our older students talk about countering strategies.  We barricade doors and practice escape routes.  As Sergeant Borowy explains to our staff and students, the goal is to be a harder target in the event of an intruder with bad intentions.

Over the past few years, we have taken action to improve our door-locking mechanisms, our surveillance cameras, and just recently, improving our building security systems.  Visitors must “buzz in” and are on camera while doing so.  Our building secretaries question visitors and everyone signs in before having access to our students.

I cannot say enough about the faith I have in our Independence Police and Fire Departments.   Police Chief Kilbane and Fire Chief Rega work hand-in-hand with our school leaders and students.  Sergeant Borowy is in our buildings every day.  We have direct communication systems with our Independence Dispatch.  Nationally, police response times are 4-5 minutes.  In Independence, our first responders typically are in our buildings within 2 minutes.  We are very blessed.

Our IPD and IFD have all had extensive active shooter and trauma training and have practiced their responses at each of our buildings.  I have personally worked with our police, fire, and SWAT teams as they simulate the horrible-to-imagine response to an emergency event in one of our schools.  Your Independence school and city officials remain dedicated to actively and regularly be prepared for any emergency.  I am proud to tell you that surrounding city police and fire departments send their officers to observe and participate in our trainings.  We are role models for surrounding communities.

As a school district, we have created a safety committee with our police, fire, and school leaders.  Our strategic planning has identified safety and security to be an area we continue to focus on moving forward.  We take an active approach to training and preparation.  Each of our police cruisers has access to our buildings.  We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety and prepared response in event of an emergency.

I wish I could promise our community there could never be a tragedy in the Independence Local Schools.  In that same way, I wish I could promise my own children we will never have a burglary at home.  No superintendent or parent can make those promises.  What we can do is take every precaution, conduct every drill, respond to each and every tip or concern that is brought to our attention, and collaborate with local authorities to keep our schools as safe as possible.  We will continue to invest in and support students with emotional needs as we work with our families.  These things we will do.  If you have any concerns about a student, the best thing to do is reach out to your building principal with the information.  As they say, “see something, say something.”  If you feel it is an immediate concern for safety and welfare of a student, you may call our Independence Police Department or our leave an anonymous tip at our Safe School Helpline (1-800-418-6432 ext 359).  You may also text the helpline (text TIPS to 66746) to leave a tip for our school leaders.  We receive this information 24 hours a day.

We are in this together as part of the village raising up our children.  When we work together, we can make our schools and our community as safe and productive as possible.  Let’s continue to pray for those families in Parkland as they deal with the unthinkable tragedy.  Let’s continue to pray for our families.

Your Superintendent,
Ben Hegedish