Column: School safety through the eyes of county sheriffs

BY DON HEINZMAN - ECM PUBLISHERS

Don Heinzman mug shot

Don Heinzman

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 in 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 how to confront a shooter. 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 Hasting High School with a gun, but fortunately it jammed.

He 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 during their upcoming meetings, but not much is expected to change except for the possible placement of cameras.

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

An elementary principal in the Anoka-Hennepin district says arming school staff would do more harm than good.

An elementary school principal from the Burnsville district asks if the public really wants to spend money for metal detectors and armed guards. He doesn’t want to see that.

Principals said that in their experience, no one has tried to enter the building brandishing a weapon; no one has threatened them physically.

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

Students didn’t talk much about the Sandy Hook shooting, and teachers were directed not to discuss it, unless students brought it up.

The principal in the Anoka-Hennepin District 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.

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

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

In one Burnsville elementary school, the principal said all entrances are locked except the front door leading to a foyer where a second set of doors are locked, except one leading directly to the principal’s office.

Teachers with two-way radios monitor the playgrounds during recess.

They also have access to the intercom system in their rooms.

Principals say they always think about safety when students are in the building.

Said one, when you don’t think about it, you probably should stop being the principal.

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM and Sun Publications. Reactions to this and any other commentary printed on these pages are always welcome. Send to: peggy.bakken@ecm-inc.com.

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