Governor, superintendent take school threats seriously
Reports of threats to schools have flooded law enforcement throughout the country in the days and weeks since a tragic shooting at a Parkland, Fla. school left 17 people dead last month.
Iowa hasn’t been an exception to that. More than a dozen instances of threatening communications directed toward schools around the state have caused school administrators to react and local law enforcement agencies to scramble. Some threats have even caused school districts as close as Riceville to postpone events or close their doors for a day as a precaution. Other nearby districts have worked with local police and sheriff’s offices to increase law enforcement presence at schools.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week she is working with state agencies to develop a plan to ensure school safety.
"We need to look at securing our schools," she said. "I’m pulling all of our agencies together that have anything to do with school safety and community safety, We’re going to go through and look at what we’re doing, how we’re coordinating, how we’re communicating, what’s working well, what some of the shortfalls are. We’ll talk about who else we need to bring to the table and we’ll start walking through that."
Part of that could be an assessment of current school districts' security plans, she said. For example, not all districts participate in active shooter training.
"The majority of the schools are doing that, but not all of them are," Reynolds said. "And so those are simple things I think that we can start to fix: single point of entry, surveillance, having a security guard in the schools."
New Hampton superintendent Jay Jurrens said shortly after the incident in Florida that he believes New Hampton does have a solid plan in place, and he pointed out that the school has taken numerous steps to address security concerns in recent years. Both the high school and the downtown middle and elementary school complex have their doors locked throughout the school day, and those who want to get into the schools must be “buzzed” into the buildings. New Hampton, like other school districts around the country, have spent thousands of dollars on security cameras to better monitor what’s going on both in and outside school buildings.
“It’s the reality we live in today,” Jurrens said.
While Jurrens doesn’t want to overreact to shootings like the one that occurred in Florida, he also wants his staff members and students to be vigilant.
“It can happen anywhere,” he said. “I don’t think I’m overstating that. What we want to do is be prepared for something we obviously hope never happens.”
Jurrens sent a message to the public last week, to both inform and reassure the staff, students, parents and the community.
“We take this very seriously and have our Crisis Team reviewing and revising our Crisis Plan/Procedures based on new guidelines that are available,” the statement said. “As you know, our buildings are all secure and you must be buzzed in from the office when visiting during the day.”
He noted that staff will continue to be cautious when individuals are buzzed in and buzzed out, which may be a minor inconvenience for some.
“We have asked our office staff to be extra vigilant in knowing who they are allowing in,” he said. “This may result in additional questions when you come to school, but we hope you understand we are only trying to maintain a safe space for our children.”
Jurrens also said that New Hampton has asked each of its teachers to review procedures and discuss what to do in the case of a crisis situation.
“We used a video to prompt the discussion,” he said.
He encouraged parents to visit with their children about what they discussed. He also said that a key point in school safety is speaking up if a child sees or hears something, and he reminded all students to tell a parent, teacher, principal, police officer or other trusted adult. He added that students need to report it so it can be followed up with to make sure no danger exists.
For more on this article, see Tuesday's Tribune.