Local school districts want more security, fewer guns

Administrations looking at increased safety, but not sure how to pay for it

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Dec. 14, local superintendents are wondering what can they do to supply more security to their schools.

“Our school is open, just as many are in the area,” said Upsala Superintendent Gery Arndt. “It’s impossible to protect everyone 100 percent. Anyone can shoot through a window.”

Arndt said what really needs to be done is for the legislature to go after the assault rifles, but he said that is not up to him. If it were, he would not allow assault weapons of any kind.

“This is a societal problem more than a school problem,” he said.

Upsala has covered protocol with staff and the school will definitely be more vigilant  from this point on, Arndt said.

“But to be totally secure, districts will need more personnel and expensive renovations,” he said. “In our lobby, there is access to the gym; that would have to change. But, we are struggling now with class sizes without spending more money on renovations.”

Arndt said he is sure things will be changed by the legislature, but right now cannot say how.

“Any kid who attends a school will know how to get in other than the front door,” he said. “How can we stop that? In Red Lake, the security personnel at the door was killed. In Connecticut, the shooter went through the window.”

One of the protocols at Upsala is that personnel are supposed to stop and question people in the halls who are not wearing a school badge.

“But that can be dangerous, too,” Arndt said.

At Monday evening’s Little Falls School Board meeting, Supt. Stephen Jones said that since the Sandy Hook incident, the district crisis team has met with the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department and the Little Falls Police Department concerning current safety measures. “Things are working as they should,” he said. “But the process is being reviewed.”

There will be building walkthroughs to see what it will take to get security to a level consistent with buildings built in the last 10 years. If the district pursues this, the cost could reach millions of dollars, Jones said.

“The high school will need a check-in area where the administrative offices are and the middle school needs upgrading,” he said. “The elementary schools need to be made more secure by possibly building new entrances.”

Several weeks ago, the district OK’d spending $25,000 to purchase lock-down strobe lighting for the music and shop areas, the gym, cafeteria and the outdoor entrances since noise can be an issue and messages are not always heard. The strobes would alert people of an emergency situation when an internal public address system doesn’t reach them.

Jones said the aim will be to protect the students, the faculty and the community.

“We are doing well now, but will continue to explore our options,” he said.

Staples Motley Supt. Mark Schmitz said his schools have redesigned entrances to require people to enter into the offices.

“All doors to our schools are locked throughout the day,” he said. “None of the school buildings may be entered without first walking through the office. Then we either check in the visitor or call the student down to meet them.”

Staples Motley Schools practice lock-downs throughout the school year with an emergency safety plan developed with local police, firefighters and medical personnel. The district will continue to evaluate and modify the emergency plans with local officials.

Schmitz said he doubted if any school is prepared for an incident such as Sandy Hook.

“We do not have walls built around our schools or bars across the doors and windows. We are not built to withstand attacks from people with assault weapons,” he said. “We are built as places for children to learn, play and socialize.

“I believe our society needs to be asking what types of schools they want for their children to attend and what types of weapons the general public has a right to own,” he said.

“Do we start building schools with walls and bars? Do we continue to allow citizens to arm themselves with assault weapons which are repeatedly being used to kill large numbers of people at schools, movie theaters and wherever else?” he asked. “These are questions for our society to wrestle with.”

In Pierz, the first priority is the safety and security of the children.

“Our first few days after the event in Connecticut has been focused on helping the children,” Supt. George Weber said. “I can understand that people want to know their schools are safe. We have made some changes physically to how we secure the buildings and to our security systems over the last few years.

“But since Dec. 14, we have had several internal meetings to seek input from teachers and to review processes for lock-downs and crisis response,” he said.

“We are planning more meetings with that as the topic, along with meetings to focus on the physical layout of our buildings. We will evaluate potential improvements to increase security,” he said. “The recommendations from those meetings will be reviewed to determine our short term changes  in procedures and our potential long-term changes in facilities.”