Petal School District outlines new text message system, bus and safety protocol

By HASKEL BURNS,

In anticipation of the new school year, Petal School District officials are implementing a handful of new procedures, including a new anonymous text messaging system for students and updated school bus protocol.

The new measures were announced at a press conference Monday at the Petal Soccer Fieldhouse behind Petal High School.

“Back in the spring of 2018, we had a safety and security audit that took place in our district, where we had an outside expert come into our district, just to have a different set of eyes on things,” Superintendent Matt Dillon said. “As you know, if you’re seeing those things each and every day, sometimes you might miss something, so it was great to have an outside source come in and give us some feedback on things that we can do better.

“A lot of that information affirmed a lot of things we’re already doing well in our district, but at the same time it offered us some dialogue to talk about some things that we can do even better.”

The new text messaging system will allow students to text (601) 300-6336 to anonymously report matters such as bullying, threats, crimes, event information and any other concerns they may have.

“It would help us make it better for the safety of the students, say, at football games,” said Gavin Guy, chief of police for the school district. “We’ll post it and they can keep it in their phones, in their contacts, and let us know any time a crime has been committed or something where they can just give us some information to help us out.”

In addition, parents will be asked not to engage in conversations with school bus drivers at a bus stop, as it can distract the driver and divert attention from the children.

“What (conversing with the bus drivers) does, is it takes the driver’s attention away from those students on that bus,” said Andy Schoggin, chief operations officer for the school district. “It takes their attention away from the oncoming traffic, and it focuses their attention on that conversation.

“So what we would ask as part of this procedure, if there are items that need to be discussed with that bus driver, please contact our transportation office and they’ll be happy to get you in touch with that driver. Again, it goes back to that we want that driver to be focused on those students and that bus and that traffic, so that they’re not distracted from their task of getting those kids home safely.”

As another safety measure, Stadium Drive – the back part of the high school campus near Petal Elementary School – will have limited access during school days. While school is in session and elementary students are on the playground, school officials will put up gates on the road to block traffic from entering.

“We’re trying to give parents advance notice of that, to try and change the way they enter our campus,” Schoggin said.  

Dillon also discussed the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events seminar that teachers and staff recently attended. The seminar, which is held at schools across the country, is aimed at providing civilians and teachers with strategies, guidance and plans for surviving and keeping others safe during an active shooter event.

“That was a great way for us to see how things are being done at the local level, what the procedures are if an event were to take place,” Dillon said. “In addition to that, on the national level, we got ideas and information from other expects from across the nation, which allowed us to gather information and bring it back to our home district and just have some good dialogue with our leaders.”