OUSD Focus on District-Wide Comprehensive Safety Plan Update

(Britni Arguelles, Photographer0
As per the district’s prioritization of mental health and social-emotional well-being, each Orinda Union School District (OUSD) elementary offers their own Wellness Center, providing safe and supportive environments for students grappling with stress, anxiety, depression and other issues. The centers are staffed by credentialed Wellness Counselors. Pictured is the Wellness Center for students at Sleepy Hollow Elementary.

    The Orinda Union School District (OUSD) named four comprehensive goals as part of its 2023-2024 district-wide safety plan, which is reviewed and updated annually as per state requirements.
    Areas of focus include emergency preparedness, physical safety, mental health and wellness and positive behavior support.
    The emergency preparedness aspect of the plan has OUSD collaborating with the Orinda Police Department (OPD) to update all evacuation maps, upgrading and inventorying the PA systems and supplies and revising the emergency command center protocols and maps.
    Training for potential emergencies begins at the start of the year with safety drills taking place on campuses.
    So far this year, there have been 18 school shootings resulting in injuries or deaths across the country, according to http://www.educationweek.com. A student-on-student stabbing at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek on April 25, as reported by NBC Bay Area, highlights the necessity of school response protocol.
    All OPD officers are well-trained to respond to school safety concerns and the department has consulted with OUSD on the issue, said Police Chief Ryan Sullivan. Also covered is better familiarization with the schools, their layouts and individual safety plans.
Knowledge of physical aspects of the campuses, such as which direction doors open, is important and there are plans to conduct training at each school site, Sullivan added.
    Physical safety for students and staff entails improvements to current facilities and playgrounds and street safety for arriving and departing students. There are changes to drop-off and pick up procedures for the Before and After School Care programs (BASC). Campus fire safety through abatement is another goal.
    “Can we hire crossing guards, looking at the budgets?” is a question, looking into the physical safety aspect of the plan, said Glimme. “What kind of education can we do for the students for their physical safety?”
    Glimme said the mental health and wellness of OUSD students is a priority, as there are lingering effects from the pandemic and students being alone in the online learning environment.
    Cyber safety and bullying, plus social and emotional safety are included as mental health priorities. Student, staff and parent awareness of mental health resources are outlined in the safety plan. In addition to professional development to ensure appropriate training on social emotional learning (SEL), there are strategies and coordinated social media presentations about its hazards.
    OUSD Board of Trustees President Hillary Weiner emphasized the importance of figuring out systematically how to both help students and help staff to help students, when it comes to mental health.
    Weiner said there are wellness centers staffed with counselors at all four elementary schools, which was prioritized within the budget.
    While Orinda Intermediate School (OIS) has staffed counselors, the addition of a dedicated wellness center on the campus is a goal, Weiner added. It is part of the building plan currently underway.
    “Every age group is affected in a different way,” said Weiner, regarding the mental health issues faced by students.
    OUSD seeks to employ a positive behavior intervention system (PBIS), a dedicated group tasked with examining tools for positive behavior and consequences and will explore collaboration with community partners. Staff will be trained in accordance with the system and the district will communicate PBIS work with parents through education events.
    Safety can be an overwhelming topic, since it is so close to home, acknowledged OUSD parent Kelli English.
    “I think we are always going to look at safety plans as living documents,” she said. “Because there are always things that can be improved.”

Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

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