Superintendents say school safety plans reviewed often


A mass school shooting like that in Parkland, Florida, two weeks ago won't necessarily cause immediate changes in the crisis plans for area school districts and law enforcement.

However, a thorough investigation of the incident and law enforcement response could lead to changes later on. A former student shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and wounded more than a dozen others.

Many area superintendents contacted in the last week said they review their crisis plans throughout the year, including after major incidents elsewhere. They continue efforts to improve security and safety in their schools.

"When an incident occurs somewhere, we look at what took place there and how well-equipped we would have been for that scenario," said Montevideo Superintendent Luther Heller. They involve local law enforcement in their regular reviews, too, he said.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt, who has four officers working as school resource officers in Willmar Public Schools, said Monday that evaluation is ongoing throughout the year.

"Whenever drills are done, there's always an evaluation on how we can do things faster, more efficient," Felt said.

Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm said the district conducts safety reviews with the Willmar Police Department and the school resource officers. Its emergency plans have also been reviewed by state and county officials.

Response tactics have changed dramatically since the Columbine school shooting 19 years ago in Colorado, Felt said. "The goal now is to get in to try to stop the threat as quickly as possible."

It's too early to know if there will be lessons to be learned from the Parkland shooting, he said. Any recommendations will come after the incident has been investigated, he added.

School officials offered other ways to help prevent school violence.

Districts have enhanced school security in recent years. Willmar and other districts lock school doors once classes have started for the day and require visitors to sign in. Visitors are expected to show IDs.

Paying attention to relationships and mental health is important, they said.

"We believe that strong, loving, and caring relationships are powerful in the fight against school violence," Litchfield Superintendent Beckie Simenson wrote in a letter to parents and guardians. "We need to continue to keep our students connected at home and in school."

Letters to parents offered links to websites with resources for families. Superintendents invited parents to call guidance counselors, social workers or administrators with questions.

"The safety of our students has been and will continue to be our number one priority," New London-Spicer Superintendent Paul Carlson wrote in a letter. "Our district provides special supports to help all of our students form positive relationships with adults," he said. "We address barriers in teaching and how to re-engage disconnected students."

The state requires schools to have five school lockdown drills and five fire drills each year, plus a tornado drill. Some add more to the list.

"Each year Benson Schools conducts a district-wide evacuation drill to ensure that all staff and students practice procedures in the event of an emergency," said Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer.

BOLD staff underwent new crisis response training last month and will be training students in the near future, said Superintendent John Dotson.

Dotson said he hopes that the student activism rising after the Parkland shooting will have a positive impact on school safety. Others said they hope the students are aided in their healing by speaking out.

"As administrators, we have discussed the possibility of participating in the #NeverAgain movement," Dotson said. The student survivors in Florida adopted #NeverAgain in their attempts to get lawmakers to pass new gun-control laws and make other changes to try to prevent mass shootings.

President Trump and others have suggested arming teachers and staff members as a way to prevent school shootings.

Felt said he felt that type of decision would have to be made by schools. However, arming teachers would require a lot of training, and "sufficient ongoing training," he said. Police officers have extensive training and have repeated training to hone their skills, he added.

Several school districts have received training in ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Others will be trained soon. The program helps organizations develop strategies to deal with violent intruders or active shooters.

A two-day training course is planned for March 21 and 22 in Litchfield. The training is available for law enforcement, schools, churches, hospitals and businesses.


Crisis Management Institute

American School Counselor Association

National Association of School Psychologists

ALICE information