Dear Osprey Students, Staff and Families,
Over the past several months, as part of our mission to advise the AHS Board of Directors and support academic and cultural excellence, the AHS School Excellence Committee has looked carefully into the issues of school culture and safety, specifically looking at the issues of drug use and vaping at school, and ways to enforce school policies while continually enhancing school safety.
As the school year wraps up, we believe it is important to share with the community some key findings:
Animas students, teachers and parents are grappling with the vexing issue of illegal substance use at school (which mainly includes vaping and marijuana).
- Substance use at school – especially vaping – is a universal problem that schools throughout the country are facing. The perception that Animas has a disproportionate problem may in fact be due to its small, intimate size – and the fact that we talk about and face difficult issues openly as a school community.
- As a reminder, the school policy on vaping and marijuana use, as written in the the AHS Student & Family Handbook is:
Animas High School staff is committed to creating a positive, safe culture. To that end, the following offenses are considered non-negotiable and will lead to a mandatory suspension and possible expulsion hearing:
- Possession of a weapon (e.g., firearms, knives or explosives).
- Unlawful possession, sale, or offer of any narcotic/controlled or illegal substance or possession of tobacco/smoking products including but not limited to vape pens or e-cigarettes .
- Bullying, fighting, or intentionally inflicting physical/emotional harm on another member of our community.
- This is a cultural issue that has a cultural solution. Our teachers are not police officers, and time spent policing inappropriate behavior is precious class time lost. The administration has clearly told students there is no place at school for substance use. If students can not make it through the school day without using, they have a problem and Animas will find resources to help them. Earlier this year, Animas hosted an Osprey Family Meeting about this issue, where community members took part in various real-school scenarios. The group grappled with examples that demonstrated the fraught complexity our administrators face regularly.
The SEC commends Sean, Libby and Erin for the difficult and time-consuming work they do every day, looking for student-centered solutions that serve both the individual student and the student body as a whole.
School safety is also an important and emotional priority for all schools. School representatives have attended community meetings; met with local emergency responders including the Sheriff’s office, State Patrol, and Durango Police Department; and worked closely with 9R’s Safety and Security Coordinator to improve security at AHS.
The Department of Homeland Security and United States Secret Service acknowledge that it is impossible to prevent all incidents but schools can put structures in place to help minimize incidents, accordingly, we are in the process of revamping our security system.
- Prevention: The biggest vulnerability at any school is behavior. Teaching students resilience, positive outlets and emotional supports are the most effective way to deter violence, and Animas consistently demonstrates success fostering a climate of respect and trust and building relationships. As part of our school DNA, Animas is inherently focused on the well-being of students.Our history of strong student-teacher relationships, and our small community where all students are well-known, are our biggest assets against violence. As an example, this year Animas is participating in the Sources of Strength program to help prevent suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse by training, supporting, and empowering both peer leaders and caring adults to impact their communities. You can read more about the organization here: Sources of Strength.
- Protection: Campus access is our next area of vulnerability. The school has met with several security companies to review our existing security measures and the SEC has recommended to the Board a security system upgrade. As an initial step, this summer the school will install card-key access locks for the doors on both buildings, a vastly improved camera system and a panic-button system that will directly link the school to emergency services.
- Response: In an emergency, Animas staff are well-trained and prepared. Like all Southwest Colorado schools, AHS utilizes the Standard Response Protocol developed by the I Love You Guys Foundation, and staff are trained several times throughout the year with fire/evacuation drills once a month and lockdown/lockout drills several times a semester. Sean is also in regular contact with Durango’s emergency response teams.
Note: Schools are instructed to be intentionally vague and not post Emergency Operating Plans (EOP) with specific protocols, as knowledge of those procedures could actually increase a school’s vulnerability. We will continue to respect that guidance.
Be Part of the Solution
We hope you can appreciate the complexity of these challenges, and we recognize that the culture and safety of Animas High School is an ongoing, permanent part of school governance.
We invite you to contribute to the solution:
- Attend a meeting of (or join!) the School Excellence Committee, Board of Directors, and/ or School Wellness Committee (click for more information)
- Contribute to the school security system (click here) or volunteer to help source grants; contact [email protected] to learn more about how to help
- Continue the dialogue at home and encourage your student to report any suspicious activity to any staff member in person or through email
If you have any questions or suggestions, please reach out to any SEC member or Head of School Sean Woytek. Thank you for your support as we continue to make Animas High School an excellent school for all of our children.
The Animas High School School Excellence Committee
Linda Fitts-Liberman (Board Member and SEC Chair)
Jesse Hutt (AHS Founder);
Moira Compton, Janet Wolf, Becca James (Parents)
Libby Cowles (Asst. Head of School), Jess Adams (College & Career Counselor), Ally Johnson (Teacher)