By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Superintendent Jeff Powers addressed the Dassel-Cokato School Board Thursday about what the DC School District does to prevent tragedies such as the one which took place in Newtown, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14.
Powers informed the board he sent out a campus-wide email expressing the school’s sympathy with what took place at Sandy Hook, as well as what DC does to keep students and staff safe. The letter is posted on DC’s homepage.
The district has a crisis plan in place, which was adopted in 2001, and is reviewed on an annual basis, Powers noted.
Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the principals and deans of students met last week to process what happened, discuss what DC does to prevent it from happening here and what policies are in place, as well as what can be done differently in the district.
The group will be meeting again Tuesday, Jan. 15, and representatives from the Wright and Meeker county sheriff’s offices will be in attendance.
“Expect us to come back to you with some changes,” Powers told the board, adding the district may also ask for capital expenditures for building safety improvements.
One of the things that came up was making building access more secure than it already is, Powers added.
“What hit me so hard with this (school shooting) most of the others had a common tie with the school,” Powers said. “This one was so remote.”
He added that Sandy Hook Elementary had very good security measures but the results were still devastating.
Part of the discussion amongst the team of principals and deans of students was that security is not their primary job, which is to teach students, but the district does have safety measures in place that work very, very well, Powers said.
The school practices lockdown drills, and within two-to-three minutes, an entire building within the district is completely dark and will appear completely empty, he added.
Dassel Elementary School Principal Debbie Morris shared an email she received from a parent who asked their child whether they feel safe at school.
The child told the parent that the teacher just tells the students where to stand, and they have practiced the drill many, many times, and “we know what to do.”
“We will continue to work on these things, tweaking them as we go along,” Powers said.
Along with lockdown drills, the district also practices shelter drills (for severe weather), and evacuation drills (for fire, chemical spills, and other issues).
The district also has a school resource officer (a deputy with the Wright County Sheriff’s Office) who is in the district every day.
“I believe this is one of the most powerful things we can do, as far as a deterrent,” Powers said, noting that a school shooting has never occurred in a building where an armed police officer was present.
Representative Dean Urdahl called Powers after the Sandy Hook tragedy to ask his opinion what is the number-one thing legislators can do to prevent school shootings.
Powers told Urdahl providing and funding a school resource officer in every school district would go a long way to preventing such tragedies.
Powers noted that the district, although rural, is lucky to be in a progressive county that pays for half the cost of a school resource officer.
Having a school resource officer in the district allows that officer to build a relationship with students and families, which is a powerful tool, Powers said.
The officer is included in every disciplinary meeting with students and parents, he added, noting that the entire district is good at relationship building between students, staff, and the school resource officer.
One of the things the district strives to do is to know its students, as well as building relationships amongst students, staff, and peers.
“A student should be called by their first name at least once every day at school. That’s huge to have someone outside of their family know them well,” Powers noted.
This is one reason the middle school has power hour, where each student starts his or her day in the same room with the same teacher throughout their middle school career, building those relationships.