Securing our Schools: One school district’s plan to fight the new normal

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MARION, Iowa (KWWL) — Whether it’s high school or elementary school, social media threats and crisis situations can happen anywhere and at any time. This fear put schools in the position to constantly evolve their safety plans, pushing them to be more secure than ever.

In May CNN reported that only 21 weeks into 2018, there were 23 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed.

“Well three Waterloo schools are out of session today, all because of a threat made on social media,” said Ron Steele, just last month.

With an increase of active shooter and social media threats, schools have to be more secure than ever.

“It’s something that’s at the forefront for school officials and law enforcement,” said School Resource Officer Tom Daubs. “Since obviously Columbine in 1999, that’s really become an issue. What can we do as the law enforcement community, as the educational community? What can we use as an option to keep students safe?”

The Columbine massacre shocked the nation; the deaths of 13 students at the hands of two classmates, who also died, served as a wake-up call.

In Iowa schools, police or resource officers on staff may now be the norm.

However, Linn-Mar School Principal Jeff Gustason said metal detectors are not. “Short of locking down like a prison, which there are folks who would like us to do pretty much that or to have metal detectors and really treat it like that… we are a school. We are a welcoming place, much like a supermarket.”

Security systems like metal detectors could be an option but at a cost of about $4,000 per detector approved for school use, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s $4,000.00 per door, per school.

For a district like Linn-Mar with ten schools, that’d be a cost around $80,000 for every school to get two, which is expensive for public schools who rely on tax payer dollars.

Safety on campus is not something they take lightly said, Principal Gustason. “I was here when Columbine happened and we had every outside door that was open. After that we went down to two doors from 22 outside doors that were open. Even since then we’ve tried to beef up the things that we do.”

Limited and secure entrances, sometimes with buzzer systems are the new standard as well as all guests being required to check-in.

It’s something that takes extra time, but Officer Daubs said that’s time well spent. “Safety isn’t always convenient and convenience isn’t always safe. Back in the day you had a school with maybe 20 doors to a building and all those doors were probably unlocked. You could come and go as you please. Now in the world we live in schools need to be safer. So you might only have one or two doors that are unlocked from the outside.”

Schools aren’t just equipping buildings with safety devices, but students and faculty are also getting safety training.

“The thing that we’re doing now is in the event of something that’s going on… what is your action as a student, as a staff member as somebody that’s just in the situation?” said Principal Gustason.

Getting students and staff prepared in the event of an emergency is something Officer Duabs said is key, “It is unfortunate that we are training students but we’d rather have them prepared and not scared. I’d much rather have people students, staff, bus drivers, everyone trained.. and never need that training one time.”

Linn-Mar High School is offering optional active shooter drills for students and parents. This way kids know what to do in the event of an emergency.

Principal Gustason said it’s all about preparedness. “Even training grandma’s and grandpa’s and moms and dads and everyone else that comes to an event. Whether its a concert or a game or something like that. Now those are discussions now, what kinds of things do we let people know? well here’s the exits, here’s the entrances.”

Changes in Iowa law will soon require schools to have safety drill procedures quickly and easily accessible to all school employees.

Linn-Mar Community School District recently started using CrisisGo, an app that does just that.

It also stream lines communication during a crisis event.

Linn-Mar Executive Director of Student Services, Leisa Breitfelder introduced the app to the district.

“A lot of times in an emergency situation, you’re waiting things out and you don’t know what’s happening. So this really opens up those lines of communication, so they can see what’s going on and happening. Our administration are able to send them messages. What’s nice is our first responders and law enforcement are attached into this as well. So they can see messages going back and forth and what’s going on. Then they can respond as well and say we’ll be there in two minutes,” said Breitfelder.

The app also allows teachers to input information like who’s in their classroom and document injuries.

“So what they are able to do is take attendance of the students so immediately staff knows who’s missing and who’s accounted for,” said Breitfelder.

Relaying information and having a quick response during a crisis, could save lives.

Giving out the best information is also critical, including providing mental health resources.

“Let’s get people to come in and let us know, lets have relationships with our students and others that say somebody is not right. Somebody is doing a certain thing so that we can try to prevent something before it even happens,” said Principal Gustanson.

At the end of the day, Principal Gustanson said students can be the best resource for spotting something that’s ‘just not right.’

The bottom line for any preparedness plan is making sure students, teachers and parents have a direct line to expressing concerns before anything bad happens, while also making sure you know how to respond in a crisis event.

Linn-Mar Community School District said they’re working on rolling out the app for students and parents, next year. This way they would also receive alerts and updates during a crisis.

For more information on the CrisisGo app check out their website.

Ashley Neighbor

Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids
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