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Meixner: Winter Brings Need for School Safety Awareness

MACOMB ­­ School safety is essential throughout the school year,  but the winter months present additional challenges, says John Meixner, Regional Superintendent of Schools for Fulton, Hancock, McDonough  and Schuyler counties (ROE26).

“Regional Offices of Education are responsible for annual inspections of each of the 4,000  public school buildings in Illinois, but school safety is a year round responsibility that goes beyond these annual safety inspections,” Meixner said.   “There are added challenges during the winter, not only because students are spending more time inside, but because weather ­related accommodations can inadvertently compromise safety.”

Something as simple as the fact that children may be wearing heavier coats, snowsuits, boots, etc., can lead to overcrowded storage space.   Winter heating can lead to dry conditions, which in turn can increase the risk of fires; and in the event  of an emergency, moving students away from the school in subfreezing temperatures presents extra challenges.

As one of their primary responsibilities, Regional Offices of Education (ROE) and Intermediate Service Centers (ISC) assist districts with meeting Illinois’ Health and Life Safety (HLS) requirements and completing yearly safety inspections of school buildings.

Statewide, ROEs and ISCs complete a full inspection of every public school building and also many private and parochial school facilities each year.

“The state issues a checklist that contains more than 300 separate items.   There  are the obvious things, such as fire alarms, emergency lights and exit signs,” Meixner said, adding there  are less obvious items that reflect the complexity of a typical school building.

“Schools are far more than classrooms and hallways, so the inspections cover a variety of specialized situations, such as chemical storage in science labs, fire retardant curtains in school theaters, exhaust hood and ducts for kitchens and vapor­ proof lights near  swimming pools, locker rooms and other areas that can be damp.

Although state code  compliance is primary, ultimately the intent is to help districts increase student safety and decrease liability by identifying areas of concern or potentially unsafe situations.

The ROEs frequently work in conjunction with the State Fire Marshal and local fire departments for building inspections.   While schools must follow specific code  requirements that differ somewhat from municipalities, this relationship is beneficial due to having additional expert  eyes in the schools, Meixner said.

“We aren’t trying to punish school districts, but rather  we try to work with schools and with the local officials to correct and prevent problems,” Meixner added.

The cooperative approach also helps fire departments become familiar with local building layouts and fosters positive relationships between schools, students and community fire fighters.

Fire safety does not end at the school building, Meixner added. According to the federal U.S. Fire Administration, half of all home  heating fires occur in December, January and February and heating equipment is involved in one out of every five home  fire deaths.

Regional Office of Education #26 has a web page devoted to Health and Life Safety which is not only useful for educators and school administrators, but contains information that can be valuable for parents as well, such as advice  on the safe use of power strips and standardized guidelines for safe playground surfaces.

A free home  fire safety poster can also be downloaded from the federal Fire Administration, which is part of Homeland Security’s Emergency Management Agency, at (English)
or (Spanish).