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The Lasso in the News-Press: School Safety & Monitoring Student Laptops

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The Falls Church News-Press has partnered with George Mason High School’s award-winning newspaper, The Lasso, to bring its readers some of the top articles appearing in the student-run digital paper. This regular feature will appear monthly in the News-Press during the school year. The Lasso can be found online at www.fcpps.org/lasso.

Could This Happen to Us?

By Gabriel Brown

On Monday, November 10, 16-year-old student Brendan Wilson was shot and murdered near Woodbridge Senior High school in Woodbridge Virginia. The shooting occurred just before 4:30 p.m. on a paved path, nicknamed “The Cut,” connecting the residential neighborhood to the school.

Students from Woodbridge were released from school on Tuesday, November 10 due to Veterans Day and had an early dismissal the next Wednesday. Woodbridge is less than half an hour away from Falls Church. How prepared are we in this small community against such a threat?

“I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably try to stay calm, maybe run… A shooting wouldn’t happen here. It’s a pretty safe school” said freshman D’Avionne Cushingberry Colbert.
George Mason High School has a monthly fire drill and occasional earthquake and lock-down safety drills. However, there are no drills during fourth and fifth block, the lunch period blocks. There is no definite answer where or when a gun situation could happen, but George Mason has prepared to the extent it believes is necessary.

“I don’t think that I could tell you with 100 percent certainty that something like this [Woodbridge shooting] could never happen” said Assistant Principal Matt Hills.

George Mason has three security guards and many other safety implementations set. “The safety of the George Mason students is a top priority,” said Mr. Hills. (Photo: Gabriel Brown)
George Mason has three security guards and many other safety implementations set. “The safety of the George Mason students is a top priority,” said Mr. Hills. (Photo: Gabriel Brown)

In an article in The Washington Post, forensic scientist Dewey Cornell notes that “gun violence is not increasing” and that “School shootings are statistically rare.”

However, as The Huffington Post pointed out in a recent article: “Since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been an average of 1.37 school shootings for each school week.”
Since May 2014, the administrators at George Mason have hired three security guards from a company called Securitas to make sure the school is secure inside and out.

“We have certain drills and different policies and procedures for each individual plan if you will,” said Hills. “It’s something that we’ve worked on as an administration team and in the district as well. We have plans in place, and each of us as an administrator has a role in terms of what to do if something like a [shooting] happens.”

Officer Markus Bristol, the School Resource Officer, confirmed that there has not been a school shooting at George Mason since at least 1996.

According to the Assistant Principal Secretary, Mrs. Dorothy Clinton, who’s worked at George Mason for 27 years, we have never had a gun threat or any related situations involving guns at George Mason.

The City of Falls Church Police records are digitized as far back as 2003 and indicate no school shootings that took place at any of the four Falls Church City Schools within the last 11 years. (Records prior to 2003 were not readily available at the time this article went to deadline.)

“I think it can happen anywhere. It’s not detectable,” said senior Katy Crigler. “You can’t tell who’s unstable, no matter how prepared you are.”

Senior Marcus Zack used to attend Woodbridge Senior High School in ninth grade.

“It was common to see fights, but I was surprised [the shooting] happened in daylight,” Zack said.

“The Cut was a sketchy place,” Zack added. “I felt safe at that school because I surrounded myself with a lot of people. The bigger the area, the more diverse the people are, so then the more conflicts there are too.”

“Although I felt safe in both places, I do feel safer here than before because of the lack of confrontations such as fights that there are here compared to at Woodbridge. This is a tighter community so that may contribute to that,” Zack said.

Administrators at GM also have set procedures and code words for emergencies. It’s similar to a playbook, in sports, where each administrator has a different role and location to stick to depending on the situation.

State law mandates that schools conduct regular safety drills, including fire drills, lock downs, tornado drills, and shelter-in-place exercises. At the beginning of the year, it required for teachers to look through the safety handbooks and learn how to behave for each emergency. The difference between drills and actual emergencies is that instinct is used to make decisions during actual emergencies.

During lock-downs, bad weather drills, or shelter in place exercises, students must remain in designated areas and closely follow all directions by staff. Student and staff safety rely on following directions carefully.

It is impossible to tell what will happen in the future, but “it is our job to make the school as safe and secure as possible,” Hills said.

With a little more than half of the school year left to go, as safe as the school is, threatening situations are always possible, but Mason is doing all they can to prevent any incidents.

 


 

Watched, But Why?

By Kiernan Bartlett

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Photo: Kiernan Bartlett

Ever noticed the remote desktop under users on your Macbook? By using Apple Remote Desktop, a new software program for teachers at GMHS, teachers are able to monitor students’ screens remotely while students are at school. The idea is that teachers will use this technology to make sure that students are staying on task during class.

“Its creepy,” said junior Jacob Serner. “I understand why they would do it at school, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it.”

“The school isn’t the FBI,” said freshman Maria Pereira.

Pereira’s reaction was a common response among students who learned about the software for the first time. However, students were informed about this at the beginning of the year. They were given an eight-page document which they had to sign in order to receive their Macbooks. The last page informed students that teachers would be permitted to monitor their activity during school.

“I signed an eight-page document?” said freshman Renan Ayala. This was another common reaction among students when told about what they signed, and the majority don’t even remember signing it.

The Falls Church City Public School System handbook states that the school administration has the ability to monitor students’ computers, both at home and at school. The handbook reads:

“I understand that the school division may access and monitor my use of electronic media, including my use of the Internet, email and downloaded material, without prior notice to me. I further understand that should I violate the Acceptable use policy or regulation, my electronic media privileges may be revoked and disciplinary action and/or legal action may be taken against me.”

This is supported by Mr. Steven Knight, Mason’s Instructional Technology Coordinator.

“Anywhere you work, the administration has rights over the devices,” said Knight. “One of the best practices of any school which provides devices for their students is the remote desktop they use to monitor the devices’ use.”

Some students, when informed of this, were concerned that teachers would be able to monitor activity at home. Pereira said that she and her parents sometimes use the Macbook for personal activities.

However, according to principal Tyrone Byrd, teachers are not permitted to monitor students’ activity at home. The form that students signed to receive their Macbook quoted the FCCPS technology handbook, and many students remain unaware of the monitoring right they agreed to after signing the eight page document.

“The teachers will not be able to monitor the students’ computers at home,” said Byrd. “Some teachers are still not comfortable with using this right, and we are still experimenting with the technology that we have been provided with.”

“I understand where they are coming from.” said freshman Johnny Jura. “It’s okay if they monitor us to make sure we are on task and not abusing the Macbooks at school.”

 


These articles plus more from The Lasso available at www.fcpps.org/lasso.