School should be a safe place, but the rise of gun violence over the last decade has made the fear of school shootings a reality for students, educators, parents and communities. The question is, how can that fear be eased? One way, is the Safe School Volunteers Program.
Steered by Gardnerville resident Ted Hobbs and partnering with the Douglas County School District and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Safe School Volunteer program was created with Douglas County School District’s number one priority in mind, “to ensure that all students are provided a safe and secure education.”
Hobbs served in the U.S. Navy for 29 years and has been a substitute teacher in Douglas County for 38 years.
“I’ve worked with kids longer than I was in the Navy,” said Hobbs. “I enjoy working with kids and interacting with them. I want to make sure they have a safe place to learn and grow.”
The aim of the program is to provide an additional layer of support to existing school safety measures, said Douglas County School District Executive Director of Education Services Shannon Brown.
“They (Safe School Volunteers) will be an extra set of eyes and make sure the school is safe,” said Brown.
The goal is to have a team of at least two volunteers on each school campus during school hours. The volunteer team would patrol the grounds observing suspicious activity, individuals or likewise. If such activity is observed, the team would notify the site administrator and the school resource officer, whom would make the best determination of action to eliminate the threat. The volunteer team would be unarmed, except for radios.
“Our Sherriff and (Superintendent) Keith Lewis made it clear they did not want staff, administration or volunteers to be armed because in the event a shooting does occur, they don’t want any interference with the sheriff’s team,” said Hobbs.
Hobbs said part of the duties of the volunteers is to break some habits that were once thought of as safety precautions, but can actually add to the danger; like covering up windows.
“First, that’s an issue because anyone at the door should be seen right away,” said Hobbs.” You don’t want to open the door then identify the person; you want to know who it is right away. And if that person is unidentifiable by the teacher or staff, then authorities need to be notified right away.”
Another habit Hobbs sees at schools is classroom doors being propped open for many reasons, such as convenience or to let in air.
“This is a big mistake to do, because if a shooter is walking by and sees an open door, they’re going to go in,” he said.
Hobbs said the goal of the Safe School Volunteer program is to educate not only the volunteers, but, students, teachers, staff and the community and work together to keep the schools safe.
“It’s going to be, without a doubt, a learning experience,” said Hobbs.
Brown said the volunteers can also be mentors to the students, providing them with more support and someone to talk to while they are at school.
“In all the trainings we receive, interaction with the students is important because it can be the first step in preventing these things (an active shooter) from happening,” said Brown. “If a staff member, peers or one of these volunteers notice a student is having a hard time or even just one bad “off” day, it can be addressed right away or reported to the counseling or the administration offices if needed. Noticing those things and acting right away can make a huge difference and add to the safety of the school.”
Hobbs said he and the school district had hoped to start the program when school started in August, but volunteers have been hard to come by.
“Right now, we have nine volunteers,” he said. “Our hope is to get the word out to as many people as possible.”
Brown said 44 volunteers would make the program operational and would cover every school in the district every day, but more than that would help in substitution needs or to increase safety at each school.
“We are looking for more help and support at this time to kick the program off,” he said.
The Safe Schools Volunteers program is open to anyone interested in volunteering and providing safety for the school district.
“The ideal volunteers are dedicated, understand the purpose of the program and have the willingness to stick with it,” said Hobbs.
All volunteers will be trained on procedures and be assigned a school to patrol. Background checks and fingerprints are required to volunteer for the school district.
Interested volunteers are encouraged to contact the District’s Hotline at 775-392-2111.