By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Following the most recent school shooting in Connecticut, where 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a man who had virtually no connection to the school, the Dassel-Cokato School Board has been reviewing its security policies for improvement.
“We already do a lot, but the one thing we need to change that will be most visible is controlling access to the buildings,” Superintendent Jeff Powers told the board at Thursday’s meeting.
He noted that is one of the items that comes up each time a meeting takes place about security.
The recommendation comes following a meeting between district administrators and other staff and representatives of the Meeker and Wright county sheriff’s departments Tuesday.
Although Powers would not speak specifically about what the district already does, citing the need to preserve the integrity of the security, he informed the board that there is a large group of staff throughout the district trained in what to do to keep buildings safe.
The trained staff do a good job of updating policies and making sure current security measures are in place, Powers noted.
The district also receives a lot of support from the sheriff’s departments in the two counties, he added.
With more controlled access, the district would place a buzzer and video system at the main door of each building, and anyone wanting to gain access would have to obtain permission.
“That would be a big change, but I think one of the most significant things we can do,” Powers said.
Also, as students and staff are arriving at school, multiple doors will no longer be unlocked. Access for staff will be controlled by key cards.
In order to keep kids safe, it seemed like a small inconvenience for someone to announce themselves, School Board Member Irene Bender said in support of more controlled access.
Administrators and staff are continuing to have conversations about what the system might look like, how it would work, and who would control access, he noted.
“We all know you can’t stop somebody who really wants to do something bad, but we can delay them or slow them down to give us more time to react,” Powers said. “Hopefully, this money will be a total waste and we never have to use this to keep someone out.”
Other changes will also be suggested, and the board will discuss them as they arise, Powers said.
“But with your support, we would like to move forward with the controlled access piece,” Powers said.
Although still in the process of establishing the total cost of such a project, Powers said he expected it to be between $30,000 and $40,000 to place a buzzer and video system at each building in the district.
The money to pay for the system would come from the district’s capital fund, Powers added.
“A prudent school board has to take capital and invest it in security,” said School Board Member Mark Linder, noting that when something happens, and the board has not done that, lawsuits happen.
As part of the process to figure out how exactly the system would work, district staff will travel to the St. Michael/Albertville School District, which already has a controlled access system in place, Powers noted.
One of the security measures already in place throughout the DC District is a color, digital video surveillance system, but the budget for maintenance is small.
The board will be asked to increase the budget for maintenance of the surveillance system, Powers said, noting wants to make sure it is always operating properly.
Relationships still most important
Although the district is looking at more security measures to keep students safe, building relationships and knowing its students is still the most important piece of preventing tragedy, Superintendent Jeff Powers said.
“DC is very good at that and has, for many years, focused on, and continues to focus on, building relationships with kids and we have funding in place for that,” Powers said.
Both elementary schools have programs in place where students who may be struggling have more one-on-one time with adults, Powers noted.
In the middle school, the whole purpose of power hour is so each student is known well by at least one staff member, he added.
“We can do all the security stuff you want, but you can’t . . . It’s that relationship piece,” he said, adding there has never been a school shooting where someone felt comfortable reporting something might happen they were prevented.
Also, in each school shooting that has occurred, people knew something was about to happen, but didn’t report it to the proper authorities, Powers noted.
“It’s all built on trust relationship building,” Powers said.