Schools take steps to improve school, student safety

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Increased student safety is very much on the minds of the more than 40 Minnesota school leaders who responded to a recent survey. Many districts have made changes to their buildings and changes in procedures. Here’s what several area school leaders told me.

Asked what changes the district had made after the tragic school shooting last year at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Forest Lake Superintendent Linda Madsen responded: “We continue to work with law enforcement, fire and rescue staff from the three counties and various communities that comprise our district to refine our practices around safety and security. Keynoting at our back-to-school workshop for all teachers and administrators will be members of the Forest Lake Police Department. They will provide their perspective on school safety and how we work together to create and maintain safe environments for our students. In addition, the School Board voted last year to add a third school resource officer through the Forest Lake Police Department. These officers respond to situations but also work with students, families and staff to build relationships and be a positive presence in our schools and community.”

Shannon Peterson, of Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake, wrote: “School security remains a cornerstone of staff training, for the unlikely case of someone intent on harm entering our school. Entrance security, hallway cameras and state-mandated safety drills continue to be key in our efforts to maintain a safe environment for learning and working. School security is a strong consideration in the planning process for our second campus. We take all these precautions despite the fact that ‘schools … are still the safest place for children in this country,’ according to Wendy Regoeczi, the director of Criminology Research at Cleveland State University. ‘Children are far less likely to be injured or killed at school than they are almost anywhere else.’”

North Branch Superintendent Deb Henton responded: “Following the tragic events at Newtown, Conn., North Branch Area Public Schools made some significant changes to security procedures. The senior eating area at the high school was moved to a more secure location; it had been in an area adjacent to windows accessible to the public. As well, the main entrance to North Branch Area Middle School is being moved to provide better security, School Age Care parents were asked to start signing in when picking up children, and the school district coordinated with the North Branch Police Department to enhance security and response time. Of course, we also performed a careful review of our emergency procedures to ensure we are as prepared as we can be for that contingency.”

Vern Koepp, Rush City superintendent, wrote: “We had (a few) public meetings, which provided a good opportunity for people to discuss current policies, procedures and practices related to school safety and security. We immediately purchased and implemented a communication tool (School Messenger), which allows us to communicate rapidly to large groups via phone, text and email. The School Board received bids to remodel main entrances to both school buildings and decided to remodel main entrances to both buildings. Now visitors must enter the office, sign in and get a visitor ID before they can access the rest of the building.”

Koepp also described some steps to reduce bullying that I will discuss in a future column.

It’s clear these and other leaders take security seriously. That’s very good news for students, educators and families.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at [email protected]