School Safety and Emergency Response

  • The Newton Public Schools have robust safety and security systems and protocols in place to maintain secure buildings and safe school communities. We work very closely with our city partners - Newton Fire, Police, and Health and Human Services - on prevention, preparedness and response to a wide range of scenarios. 

Improvements and Enhancements

  • From 2018 to 2019, the Newton Public Schools safety team worked in partnership with the Newton Fire Department, Newton Police Department, the Newton Teachers Association and the City of Newton to update the district-wide emergency operations plan. The team worked closely with Preparedness LLC, a nationally-recognized security and risk assessment firm, to review the existing emergency operations plan and update it to reflect current requirements and best practices for school safety. 

    The result is an up-to-date, research-based emergency operations plan that provides guidance to administrators and staff for the most foreseeable types of emergencies. Importantly, the plan includes not only pre-existing protocols for evacuation, shelter-in-place, and lockdown, but added a specific “hostile event” response. The plan incorporates an options-based response to an active shooter scenario, similar to the well-known ALICE Protocol (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), as well as research-informed learning from analysis of real active shooter events. New tools, including online and hard copy handbooks as well as classroom posters, were developed to guide staff and students in the event of an emergency.

    In addition, grants from the federal government have allowed the Newton Public Schools to implement additional security and safety improvements, including updating shades on classroom windows, locks on classroom doors, and keyless entry to buildings for staff. A two-year grant to the Newton Police Department, called Secure our Schools, funded security cameras at our high schools, as well as replacement of exterior doors, and installation of emergency and exterior lighting.  An additional grant has also allowed cameras to be installed at our four middle schools, as well as in our new elementary buildings and in key external areas at other schools as needed. We continue to work closely with the police department on this type of safety and security measure.

Training and Drills

  • The district has established protocols for addressing a range of crises and emergencies. Each year, staff are trained in emergency procedures to ensure that new principals and staff, as well as veteran staff, are prepared to handle any emergency. Each school has an emergency operations plan with step-by-step directions for responding to a variety of situations. An emergency procedures poster is also posted in every classroom. Staff and students in all schools practice these emergency procedures and protocols regularly. As is done for all safety drills, the practice is tailored to grade levels, using developmentally appropriate language and discussion topics.

Definitions and Procedures

  • There are terms that you may hear from your students as they practice the safety drills at school. To provide you with context and specific vocabulary, below we have provided definitions of the words most frequently used in an emergency. These words help to communicate the specific nature of the emergency and the actions that should be taken.

    • Evacuation "Get out, stay out" - This response is used when there is a fire or other unsafe internal condition. Students and staff evacuate to designated assembly areas.

    • Shelter in Place "Stay inside, stay safe" - This response is used when there is an external security threat, severe weather, or an airborne hazard. It is also used when there is a medical emergency. Students and staff stay inside classrooms with little or no use of hallways or common areas. External doors may be locked based upon the specific situation. Instruction will typically continue.

    • Lockdown "Silent and invisible" - This response is used when there is an internal security threat. Students and staff are hidden and quiet in locked and darkened classrooms.

    • Hostile event response "Run, hide, fight" - This response is used when there is an active shooter or other act of violence in progress. Students and staff assess the situation and determine the best course of action. They may evacuate immediately or they may follow lockdown procedures described above until a safe method of evacuation is identified. The situation is assessed continuously and groups of staff/students are empowered to adjust course in response to specific events.

NPS Safety Teams

  • The Newton Public Schools organizes safety teams at each of our school buildings and at the district level to prepare for and coordinate response to crisis situations and other emergencies. The district safety team is responsible for updating and disseminating emergency policy and procedures, training materials, and assembling to determine a course of action in times of citywide crisis. The team meets monthly and includes representatives from the different school levels and roles, our school nursing staff, as well as the Newton Police Department, Newton Fire Department, our NPS psychology department, and other school and community-based mental health professionals.


    Each individual school also has a safety team that includes administrators, teachers, and other staff from that school. The team meets periodically throughout the year to review procedures and plan for emergency response.  Our school safety teams also are convened as needed to evaluate and respond to challenging community situations, plan next steps and offer support to children, parents, and staff.  The district safety team offers resources for school-based safety teams to refine their practice, and also supports specific school teams with resources and staffing as needed in the event of a crisis.

Safety Training and Drills

  • The district has established protocols for addressing a range of crises and emergencies. Each fall, new school leaders are trained in district-specific safety procedures, and all school leaders participate in a refresher training with specific areas of focus for the year.  School staff are trained annually in emergency procedures at each school to ensure that all educators, as well as support staff, are prepared to handle any emergency. Each school has supplemental emergency procedures specific to its site and facilities that are part of the annual training. In addition, staff review the emergency procedures poster that is posted in every classroom, as well as the entire emergency operations plan document which is available to all staff as a part of our internal emergency preparedness resources.

    Each year, staff and students in all schools practice the full range of drills for our emergency procedures and protocols. As is done for all safety drills, the practice is tailored to grade levels, using developmentally appropriate language and discussion topics.  Scripts are provided for classroom teachers that provide specific examples of developmentally-appropriate language to use in explaining the purpose and procedures of each day. Drills each year include:

    • 4 Evacuation Drills (required by Fire Safety law)

    • 3 Shelter-in-Place/Lockdown/Hostile Event Drills

    • 2 Bus Evacuation Drills

    Most NPS schools will complete a full series of these drills in one day as a part of an annual safety day in the fall, with a focus on the continuum of response to a safety event and the importance of coordination and communication.  In addition, our school nurses also organize drills for our internal Medical Emergency Response Teams, who practice how to respond to a non-responsive individual or other medical emergency.

    As we conduct these drills, we remind staff that talking about school safety and particularly the hostile event response can be anxiety inducing for staff and students alike.  The language we use is important and varies by the level of our students.  The feedback from our middle and high school students across the district indicates that the vast majority are already thinking/talking about issues related to school shootings/hostile events and they will feel more secure when it is addressed directly in school.  This is reflected in the national research as well, with some suggesting that elementary school students are also feeling this way.  

    Our educators are prepared to address student questions directly while providing reassurances about their overall safety and the overall safety of schools.  We also recognize that responding to questions can be helpful for troubleshooting and helping all students feel prepared, but it can also cause more anxiety because there will always be another “what if” question or scenario.  Therefore, educators are coached to stick to the key messages in each drill and reassure students of their overall safety.

Communication Systems

  • The Newton Public Schools works to ensure up-to-date communication tools are available to support our emergency response systems. NPS utilizes the SchoolMessenger communication system, which allows us to alert staff and families through a phone call, email, or text message in an emergency. We are able to communicate with families, faculty, and staff 24 hours a day and in multiple languages. SchoolMessenger utilizes data (phone and email address) entered into the district's student information system, Aspen, which families are asked to update every year.  

    Schools are also equipped with public address systems to allow for announcements to be made in the building, and building administrators also have “walkie-talkie” systems that allow for direct communication with one another.  Newton has also installed hard-wire radio connections between each building and the City of Newton dispatch center, which allows for an emergency call to be made in the event of a hostile event, cutting the time of response for first responders. Annual training is now provided for our main office staff in communicating with the dispatch center in a crisis.  The district also offers a 24-hour crisis phone for school and district leaders that is staffed by a highly trained psychologist to support and coordinate responses to events outside of school hours impacting our community.  

    Telephone systems at schools include the ability to dial 911 directly. Staff and students are encouraged to call 911 immediately for any emergency, in addition to our internal communication systems.  Phone systems in schools that rely on internet connectivity also include backup, traditional copper phone lines to specifically route emergency calls. Staff and students are also encouraged to enable WiFi calling on their cell phones to mitigate cell coverage issues in buildings.

Social and Emotional Health

  • Research demonstrates that some of the most important safety work we do is the support of the social and emotional health of our students. We know that it is most important for students to feel connected to their school community and supported by their peers, teachers, and other trusted adults. When we create connections and support, faculty and staff can more effectively address student needs or concerns when they arise. Some of the social and emotional initiatives we have in place include:

    • Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum and screenings of 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students.

    • School connectedness surveys conducted regularly in grades 3-8 and high school.

    • Anti-bullying programs and reporting systems.

    • Lessons on social and emotional competencies combined with cross-grade connecting activities and additional support for students in need in grades K-5.

    • Advisory programs connecting smaller groups of students and adults in grades 6-12.

    • Mental health professionals, including psychologists, counselors, or social workers in all buildings, as well as school nurses. 

    • Close partnerships with the Newton Health and Human Services department and outside agencies.

Facilities and Buildings

  • Our school leaders and safety teams work closely with the NPS facilities staff to ensure that our buildings meet all safety requirements and are maintained to support our safety protocols and procedures. All middle school and elementary school doors are locked during the day with only one point of entry. Visitors are granted entry to the building through a buzzer system. 

    At the high school level, the open campus system has been adjusted in recent years to respond to student and family concerns about security. While upper class students at the high schools are still allowed to leave campus and return during the school day when not assigned to classes, only the main entrances are accessible during the day, and these are adjacent to the main offices in each case.  Additional key card and passcode entrances have been created to adapt the architecture of the schools to a more secure environment.  Parents/families and visitors are required to enter through the main entrance doors and sign in at the office, which is an expectation across all schools PreK-12.

City Partnerships

  • We work closely with our city partners on all aspects of school safety. In particular, our Newton Health and Human Services (HHS) colleagues are active partners on our district and school safety teams, and our nursing staff is a part of HHS as well and participates actively in all aspects of emergency preparedness.  We are currently partnering with Newton HHS to share resources for families regarding gun safety in the home as well, in order to complement our school safety procedures.  

    Our Newton police colleagues include the NPD Community Services Bureau, which includes four dedicated School Resource Officers or “youth officers” who collaborate actively with our school leaders, provide feedback and supervision for our safety drills, and are consistently in our school buildings.

    Our Newton fire colleagues are also active participants in all of our emergency preparedness work, including the Fire Prevention, Fire Alarm & Wire, and Training and Safety Divisions.  These firefighters work closely with  the our district safety team and provide guidelines and supervision for our quarterly evacuation drills, as well as facilities requirements. 

Open Campus

  • Both Newton North and Newton South maintain open campus for students in good academic standing. It is a delicate balance we must strike to maintain the open campus philosophy we believe is important to student growth and maturity while at the same time ensuring the safety and security of all students, faculty, and staff. Our current safety procedures and protocols acknowledge and reflect the open campus policies in place at both schools.

    We will continue to monitor, evaluate, and improve our safety protocols and policies so that students, faculty, and staff feel safe in our buildings and can focus on both their academic and social-emotional growth. For more information on open campus, please see the Frequently Asked Questions listed below.

     

General Safety & Security FAQ

  • How does NPS communicate in a crisis or emergency situation?

  • If I'm concerned I'm not receiving messages from the school, what can I do?

  • What mental health resources are available through NPS?

  • If I have questions or concerns about safety and security at NPS, what should I do?

Open Campus FAQ

  • What is open campus?

  • Why do we have open campus at our high schools?

  • Is Newton the only city/town with open campus?

  • How does the architecture blend with open campus and security?

  • Who determines the safety policies, procedures, and protocols?

  • What teams are in place at the school level and how are students prepared?

  • Are safety procedures and protocols updated regularly?

  • What about middle schools and elementary schools?