As parents prepare to send their youngsters back to school this fall, shootings in schools may have them wondering if Minnesota school buildings are safe.
Those in the know say school buildings are very safe, but while there are crisis plans in place in most buildings, there’s no guarantee that all schools will be free of violence.
The April 1999 shooting deaths of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado sounded the alarm to school leaders and law enforcement that changes had to be made.
Rick J. Kaufman, executive director of community relations and emergency management for the Bloomington school system, led the crisis response team at Columbine.
Since then, he has become a nationally respected consultant and trainer of school safety and recently led a school safety audit of Bloomington’s school buildings and developed recommendations that could be a model for all schools. The Bloomington School Board has authorized a bond levy election this fall for $6 million to make school buildings safer.
If the levy is approved, upgrades would include: renovating all main entrances to schools, changing locks on all classroom doors, improving security camera systems and installing manual alarms.
Other school districts planning school safety referendums in the fall and spring include Stillwater, Eastern Carver County, Eden Prairie and Wayzata.
Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Kaufman has advised school officials to update their crisis management plans along with involving local law enforcement, fire department and other life safety partners.
The intent is to create barriers in school buildings to thwart intruders and protect students and staff.
Kaufman’s first recommendation is to remodel main entrances of schools so there is a secondary set of secure doors in place, funneling all visitors into the main office before gaining access into the school. Most schools require visitors to come through a front door and sign in. That’s not good enough.
Another recommendation is to install classroom doors that can be locked from the inside by the teachers. Many classroom doors now can only be locked from the outside.
Kaufman advises that all entry doors to the school should be locked, except the primary front entrance.
Other recommendations are:
Adopt a visitor management system integrated with the district’s student data base to ensure visitors have legitimate business at the school.
Install security cameras to serve as a deterrent to detect incidents.
Put in a silent panic button in school offices to alert staff of an emergency.
Train all staff to respond to emergency situations, according to the National Incident Management System.
Kaufman advises that all volunteers who work in schools should undergo background checks much like those that all employees are required to undergo.
He also suggests that an intervention system be set up to identify troubled youngsters early so that they can be helped. The Milaca School District staff meets every other week to identify students K-12 who need special help.
Students need to know the importance of reporting other students threatening violence or wishing to harm themselves.
Kaufman says in all major shootings, the shooter had told someone of their plans to commit acts of violence in the school building.
Ramona Dohman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says schools in Minnesota are very safe. While that’s reassuring, school officials have an obligation to do all they can to create schools where students feel safe and can learn better. – An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board.