NEW LONDON — A temporary lockdown was conducted Thursday in the New London-Spicer Middle School and High School after a student experienced a crisis situation.
No weapons were involved and all the students were safe, according to school administrators.
The lockdown lasted about 15 minutes before students returned to their regular classes.
Administrators were to conduct a debriefing with staff, and teachers were expected to talk to students to relieve concerns.
“It’s always scary because they didn’t know what was going on,” said Superintendent Paul Carlson.
The situation started around 9:15 a.m. — when the hallways were full of students going from one class to another — when a middle school student was “in crisis” and needed to be taken to the office to meet with the school social worker.
“We thought it was in the best interest of the student in crisis, and all the students and staff, to have the hallways cleared to transport the student to the office,” said Carlson.
He said administrators did not want students to witness their classmate experiencing the crisis. “We felt we needed to clear the hallways.”
The call for the lockdown was initiated and “within seconds we were able to secure the building,” said Carlson. “That was a good feeling.”
Parents in the NLS School District received automated phone messages around 9:30 a.m. informing them about the lockdown and that “no weapons were involved” and “everyone is safe.”
But having a real lockdown, instead of merely a drill, did reveal some weaknesses in the system that school officials intend to address.
During a drill, the teachers know what’s coming and at what time and students are usually in the classrooms already. This time students were in hallways and teachers had to respond to an unknown situation. The students were quickly ushered into the closest classrooms.
One class was meeting on the stage in the gym and was taken to the community fitness center around the corner, which was also locked down and supervised by teachers.
Carlson said that the non-verbal communication with staff after doors are locked needs to be improved to ensure every student is accounted for.
Signs that are always posted on exterior doors during drills apparently did not get posted on Thursday, which could cause problems for students who may arrive at school while a lockdown is in place.
Since the intercom system is not activated in the district office, Carlson said staff members there were not immediately aware of the lockdown. He expects that to be changed.
One problem that was quickly identified was that the district does not have up-to-date email and cell phone contact information for all parents.
Word quickly spread about the lockdown and the automated calls. That resulted in the school receiving numerous calls from parents who asked why they had not been notified.
Carlson said parents need to immediately update their personal contact information with the school so that future emergency announcements can be received. That update can be done by calling the school or accessing the online “Parent Portal” on the district’s website.
Meanwhile, the district is in the process of working with vendors for a new security system that will be installed this summer in all of the district’s buildings.
When that system is in place for the next school year, all the exterior doors on the buildings will be locked and visitors will be required to push a buzzer and get approval before entering the building.
The district currently has a contract for one Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s deputy to serve full-time as a school resource officer. Carlson said the district hopes to add another deputy who would be based at the elementary school.
Carlson said funding both of these additional security measures could be eased if the Legislature takes action on proposed legislation that would give school districts greater flexibility in using a health and safety levy. Currently, security systems and resource officers cannot be funded with that separate levy.
Carlson said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who is a former NLS teacher, has agreed to author that piece of legislation. He said Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, have also said they will support the bill.