Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Staff Report
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Local districts talk security


Editor's note: Last weekend, Willow River School District sent a message to parents informing them of a possible threat against the school. Investigation determined these threats were unsubstantiated. Later that week, Moose Lake School went into lockdown. No threats were made, but questions of lockdown procedure and overall school safety were raised. The following articles attempt to shed some light on two local schools, answering where our schools are at in terms of security and where they plan to go.

Moose Lake

School shootings in recent years and a recent lockdown at a local school has people questioning the lockdown policy and procedures.

Superintendent Robert Indihar of the Moose Lake School provided answers to some pressing questions regarding lockdowns and safety procedures at Moose Lake.

“There is no policy related to lockdowns but we do follow the procedures recommended by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security,” he wrote.

He explained that having an active shooter are two different things. Lockdowns are often not related to a violent threat on campus. "We are required to have a minimum of five lockdowns during the year. We typically do not have an issue with this because we go into a lockdown for a variety of issues. The most common reason is when a student or staff member is having a medical issue and we need to clear the hallways. We have had a lockdown when there is a drug dog in the building or when something is spilled in the hall and time is needed for cleaning.

“Most of the issues are non-threatening. We just need time to resolve the issue. We do practice for a threat from the outside and a threat from the inside."

When a lockdown is announced, he went on, teachers lock their students in their room. If it's a threat from the outside, the outside doors are locked, staff pull their shades and their teaching continues.

The procedure looks different if the threat comes from inside the school.

“With a threat from inside we want them to lock their doors. We communicate by intercom and software called ‘Share 911.’ All staff are to report to Share 911 during a lockdown."

Through Share 911, the local police are notified. If information should not be communicated via the intercom, administrative staff can use Share 911 to transmit information as well.

In the case of an outside threat occuring while students are outside, they would be brought inside. If an inside threat were to happen while students were outside, they would be brought to a secure location elsewhere by a teacher.

For students who are inside in the event of an indoor threat, they are supposed to "go the closest classroom. Once the door is locked the teacher is not supposed to open the door to anyone. We will be practicing a lockdown at lunch hour because that possesses the greatest uncertainty during the day."

While the district hopes to never see an incident with an active shooter, plans are in place for such a situation.

“An active shooter can involve a lockdown but that is a separate issue that we hope that we never go through. We can get on the intercom and watch the cameras to get information for the teachers and the police. The tactics for dealing with an active shooter are changed annually. We have two officers in Moose Lake who are trained in ALICE (active shooter) training. They will be training the staff next fall.

“As a school we are required to have a Crisis Team and a manual for staff to follow. After each event or drill, we meet to debrief. It is there that we decide what information we are going to release. For routine issues, like a medical issue or cleaning the halls, we do not contact the parents.

“On bigger issues, we give out the data that we can give out. In a recent issue, there was no threat but we contacted parents because of what has happened in the nation recently."

Lockdowns need to be practiced frequently, Indihar wrote. They need to be routine. "Every time we do one, we get better at them."

Taking the drills seriously is the key to ensuring preparation should the time come when a lockdown is not a drill.

“We are going to start doing lockdowns where we don’t state if is a drill. This will create a similar issue to what we had in the last lockdown but people need to get used to us doing lockdowns. Most likely, after the lockdown, we will announce that it was a drill."

Homeland Security has a checklist for school districts. While Moose Lake is strong in many areas, there is room for improvement. Indihar said they will invite Homeland Security to do a walk-through of their building and compile suggestions on how to improve.

“I am thankful that we are in a new school because we are able to lock the facility down much better than our old facility. Any shooting is tragic but the reality is that schools are safer today than in the 1990s. Schools are one of the safest places a child can be. In many cases, the likelihood of a shooting in much higher in the child’s household than it is in a school.”

Willow River

Like the other area school districts, Willow River School District has been taking steps to ensure student safety, though not as a direct result of the recent school shootings. Secondary Principal Gregg Campbell said, “Our focus has always been on supporting the mental health and physical safety of our students so that they can better achieve academic success. Those two areas just happen to be among the root causes of violence in schools.”

Mental health

Willow River has partnered with a company called Top 20 Training to provide the school with a comprehensive socio-emotional learning (SEL) model, stated Campbell. The initiative, he said, is focused on giving staff, students and parents the tools needed to deal with many of the stressors that seem to be at the core of the school violence discussion.

“It is our hope that Top 20 training will help us better reach disengaged students, provide us all with ways to better manage conflict and negativity, and build trust amongst stakeholders in our learning community.

“It’s hard to measure the success of such training thus far, but I believe our efforts have meant that more students feel safe enough to approach adults in the school with concerns or to ask for help.

More students willing to ask for help means more resources are needed, said Campbell. As a result, the district has also bolstered the mental health support provided in school.

“In addition to our school counselor, we have added a part-time school psychologist and two school-based mental health providers. Together, this mental health team addresses depression, bullying, family stressors, grief and loss, addiction, behavioral health, learning disabilities and the importance of positive relationships,” said Campbell.

Physical security

Improving the physical security of the school is a constant focus as well, said Campbell. The district conducts annual reviews of their crisis management and safety policies as well as periodic threat assessments.

“We continue to identify ways to better provide our students with a learning environment that is safe and secure,” said Campbell. He said there is limited access to the building during school hours, and they have improved the procedures for tracking visitors. In addition, the school has better addressed student supervision during non-school hours, invited local law enforcement to be an increased presence in the hallways and conducted K9 searches in the building and parking lots.

Other security efforts, Campbell said, include adding numerous interior and exterior video surveillance cameras to the buildings, grounds and buses. They have also installed new phone systems with increased communication, recording and alert features.

“We are currently working with our Crisis Response Team and Staff Development Committee to provide all staff with meaningful training and some quick reference resources they can use to mitigate risk in a time of crisis at school,” said Campbell.

He said, “The bottom line is that prevention does not happen in a vacuum. It’s part of a process that includes regular assessments, planning, drills and training. But it all comes down to the work of building positive relationships and trust with our students.”

Campbell said they have been very proud of their students for the compassion and concern they’ve shown for one another in times of crisis and applaud them for the thought they’ve put into the school violence discussion.

“We value their input moving forward as we continue to improve the safety of our school,” said Campbell. They hope every student who walks through their doors knows someone, a friend or teacher or paraprofessional or counselor, is happy to see them and wants them to succeed.

“We believe that feeling of belonging and engagement will go a long way toward preventing the kind of violence we have seen in schools across the country,” said Campbell.


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