Area principals talk about safety measures in their schools

In light of September 24th’s school shooting at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, many are probably wondering how safe their own schools are. Those in the five public school districts in Morrison County are no exception.

Each of the principals at their respective schools said they have a crisis plan in place in the event of something like a shooting happening. Rande Smith, principal of Lincoln Elementary and Dr. S.G. Knight, said teachers and administrators of the area schools met with local law enforcement personnel earlier in the week to review the schools’ plans and see if they needed changes. “Very few changes were made to the plans because they felt the plans were thorough enough; that they would be effective,” Smith said. “However, you can never plan ahead for something (a shooting) like that.”

Smith added that Mike Olson, the activities director at the Little Falls High School, is in the process of putting together a Master District plan — a compilation of all the schools’ crisis plans. “We’re feeling we’re prudent in what we’ve done,” Smith said. “Unless you have security and metal detectors at every door, you can never fully prepare for something like what happened at Rocori.”

Other ways the schools are trying to control access to the buildings are with the requirement of visitors wearing visitor tags.

Dave Piasecki, principal of Upsala Area Schools, said the most important role staff can play in preventing school shootings is to work on prevention itself. “I’ve always worked on the prevention part,” he said. “I work on it daily.”

Piasecki’s prevention efforts include using peer helpers and social workers. The school currently has a group of students who have been, and who still are, working on an anti-harassment, anti-bullying policy.

A bullying survey was also passed around to seventh through eleventh graders at the Upsala schools last year. Within the four pages, it covered questions ranging from whether the students had ever been bullied before, if they had seen someone else bullied, where they had seen bullying, how they were bullied, if they reported it, how the staff handled it, if the bullying stopped, and if they had ever bullied someone themselves. The survey ended with an invite to those students who wanted to talk to someone, or who thought they might need help, to include their name on the survey.

In addition to the survey, Piasecki said staff will be working on changing some code names and directions in their schools, as well as having more drills.

Gene Harthan, superintendent of the Upsala/Swanville schools, said he has reviewed their safety plans with staff members who are still in the process of seeing what changes need to be made. The day after the shooting at Rocori, the students were given an opportunity to talk with staff about issues and questions they may have had.

Since the schools are looking specifically at bullying issues, as is evidenced by the survey they came up with, Harthan said staff members are hoping to raise an awareness among the students, mainly in homerooms, on what exactly bullying is and to “encourage them not to do that sort of thing.”

Royalton Elementary Principal Phil Gurbada said his staff reviews its safety measures every year with new staff members receiving a special orientation. Royalton High School, as well as Little Falls Middle School, did not get back to the Record.

Dan Bakke, Lindbergh Elementary’s principal, said the school has had a crisis plan in place for many years. Along with the fire drills and severe weather drills is the category of whether an intruder enters the school. Bakke said only two parents have voiced questions regarding Lindbergh’s crisis plan.

Pierz Superintendent of Schools George Weber said, “Our philosophy is to reach out to every child and to get every child involved in something.”

Whether it be sports, band or some sort of co-curricular activity, Weber said students need to be involved in at least one thing, and the school actually keeps data on what students are involved in, and which students are involved in nothing. The district is able to keep many of the students involved in activities by providing activity buses and keeping fees low. “Socialization is a key part of the school experience,” Weber said.

The Wednesday after the shooting, Weber said he went around to all the teachers with at-risk students and asked them if they were concerned about any particular students who might get the same idea from what they saw on the news. He also met with all the teachers the day after to review their crisis plan.

Little Falls Community High School Principal Bob Just said the school’s own crisis plan was reviewed in detail, especially after the Columbine shooting in 1999, even though the plan had been in place before the shooting happened. It is now being reviewed again. A note is also being sent around to teachers letting them know they can discuss any questions the students may bring up in classes. “I can’t hardly imagine dealing with something like that (a shooting),” Just said. “We want to be aware and be concerned. We try to keep an open channel of communication.”

Just said the staff realizes the students are from all different backgrounds, but they just want to be there for the students. Since homecoming festivities were going on in Little Falls the weekend after the shooting, they received minimal feedback from the students regarding the shooting because they were involved in positive activities. “There has been some conversation,” Just said. “We’ve been pretty open and things have been pretty positive.”

The school’s student council is currently working on putting together a card for the Rocori students with signatures of whoever wishes to send their sympathies. “We’re trying to do something in a pro-active way to show that we’re concerned,” Just said.

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