Students deserve to feel safe in school buildings

As parents prepare to send their youngsters to school, recent shootings in schools may have them wondering if Minnesota school buildings are safe?

Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman says school buildings are very safe, but while there are crisis plans in place in most buildings, there’s no guarantee that all schools will be free of violence.

The April 1999 shooting of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado sounded the alarm to school leaders and law enforcement that changes had to be made.

Rick J. Kaufman, executive director of community relations and emergency management for the Bloomington school system, led the crisis response team at Columbine.

Since then, he has become a nationally respected consultant and trainer of school safety and recently led a school-safety audit of Bloomington’s school buildings and developed recommendations that could be a model for all schools. Bloomington’s school board has authorized a levy of $6 million to make school buildings safer.

Since the shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, Kaufman has advised school officials to update their crisis management plans along with involving local law enforcement, fire department and other life safety partners.

A goal is to create barriers in school buildings to thwart intruders and protect students and staff.

Kaufman’s first recommendation is to remodel main entrances of schools so there is a secondary set of secure doors in place, funneling all visitors into the main office before gaining access into the school. Most schools require visitors to come through a front door and sign in. That’s not good enough.

Another recommendation is to install classroom doors that can be locked from the inside by the teachers. Many classroom doors now can only be locked from the outside.

Kaufman advises that all entry doors to the school should be locked, except the primary front entrance.

Other recommendations are:

• Adopt a visitor management system integrated with the district’s student database to ensure visitors have legitimate business at the school.

• Install security cameras to serve as deterrence and to detect incidents.

• Put in a silent panic button in school offices to alert staff of an emergency.

• Train all staff to respond to emergency situations, according to the National Incident Management System.

Kaufman advises that all volunteers who work with students in the buildings, and on field trips undergo criminal background checks.

He also suggests that an intervention system be set up to identify troubled youngsters early so that they can be helped. The Mille Lacs school district staff meets every other week to identify students K-12 who need special help.

Students need to know the importance of reporting other students threatening violence or wish to harm themselves. Kaufman says in all major shootings, the shooter had told someone of their plans to commit acts of violence in the school building.

Commissioner Dohman believes our schools are very safe. While that’s reassuring, school officials have an obligation to do all they can to create safer schools, so students feel safe and can learn better.

An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board. The Record is part of ECM Publishers, Inc.