Officials confident in school safety procedures

Don Heinzman
ECM Columnist

Sheriffs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area believe children in schools are as safe as possible, and plans are in place if they are called to a major disturbance.

Most high schools and middle schools have armed police officers either on site or nearby. Only on occasion do they go to an elementary school.

Since the mass murders at Columbine High School in Colorado, every officer in their first year of training takes point-of-entry drills and learns how to confront a shooter. After the Columbine shooting, they are taught to go into the building immediately and confront the shooter.

Calls from school officials about a student entering school with a weapon are rare. Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows said several years ago, a student walked into Hastings High School with a gun, but fortunately it jammed. Bellows says the response to that call was excellent and officers poured into that building.

In Anoka County right after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, two students made threats and both were suspended, said Sheriff James Stuart.

Sheriffs said that students go through a lockdown drill four times a year, and officers are there to observe some of the drills.

School boards undoubtedly will discuss more safety measures, but not much is expected to change except for the possible placement of cameras.

As for arming local school personnel, a principal in Elk River says he hasn’t come to that point, although he and teachers recently discussed safety measures.

An elementary principal in Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 says arming school staff would do more harm than good.

Both principals said that in their experience, no one has tried to enter the building brandishing a weapon; no one has threatened them physically. They both agree their school is safe, so do the staff and the students.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, some parents called and wanted to know how safe the school was. They were assured a crisis plan is in place.

The principal in District 11 said she and her staff reflected on the Sandy Hook shooting, and made one change so that all personnel in the building know how to access the intercom system.

All of the entry doors except the front door in their buildings are locked during the school day, and the secretary keeps an eye on the front door at all times. Classroom doors are not locked.

Teachers confront anyone in the building to make sure they have a pass and have signed in. They are uncomfortable doing it, but they do it.

The police and fire personnel are quick to respond to any calls. Periodically, a police officer stops by the elementary school and in some schools, police liaison officers are close by.

In Anoka County, the sheriff has identified the safest places in the classroom and in the building to protect students.

Both principals say they always think about safety when students are in the building. Said one, when you don’t think about that, you probably should stop being the principal.

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