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Shooting has schools pondering safety

POLK COUNTY -- Amidst calls for immediate action following the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut -- placing armed security at every school, banning assault weapons -- local school districts are opting for a thoughtful approach.

Local school districts are assessing their security protocols after the deadly school shooting in Newton, Conn.

Damian Dovarganes/AP via Christian Science Monitor

Local school districts are assessing their security protocols after the deadly school shooting in Newton, Conn.

December 26, 2012

POLK COUNTY -- Amidst calls for immediate action following the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut -- placing armed security at every school, banning assault weapons -- local school districts are opting for a thoughtful approach.

Like school districts across the nation, local schools are reviewing their security policies and plans with local law enforcement and making changes where needed.

"Parents are asking a lot of questions," said Dallas School Superintendent Christy Perry.

To answer those questions the district sent out information about its recent safety review at Lyle Elementary School, a process that began before the Sandy Hook shooting.

Perry said the district was in the process of a school-by-school review of safety procedure and campus security. At Lyle, changes are already in place to restrict access during classes and to bettersecure gates and fencing.

"We've had that ongoing conversation with the police department," Perry said. "Every year we tackle something in terms of school safety."

Now, those plans will be reviewed again in light of events in Connecticut.

"That is what we will do in the coming weeks," Perry said.

Christy Perry

Christy Perry

Central School Superintendent Buzz Brazeau said similar conversations are happening with the Monmouth and Independence police departments.

"We are going to revisit every plan to see if there's anything we can do better," Brazeau said.

The tragic violence at Sandy Hook, however, understandably has people calling for stronger measures. Proposals for keeping students safe in schools and stronger gun laws are multiplying by the day.

Friday, the National Rifle Association called for armed guards in every school when class resumes after winter break. President Barack Obama is asking for gun control proposals to be submitted by January.

Buzz Brazeau

Buzz Brazeau

Debate in Oregon began in the wake of the Clackamas Town Center shooting on Dec. 11. It's likely legislation attempting to restrict high-capacity magazines and a ban on concealed weapons in schools will be introduced in the coming legislative session.

Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson found himself in the national spotlight after introducing an idea he calls "Campus Responders," which would call for armed volunteers in schools, whether they be teachers, administrators or citizens.

Proposals such as arming school employees to defend students require careful consideration, school leaders say.

"I think we have to be wise," Brazeau said. "We have to act responsibly and not react in haste."

With the debate swirling and the likelihood state or federal laws may change regarding firearms at schools, Perry said districts may need to wait before considering such plans.

Perry added if schools consider some form of volunteer armed security there would need to be a community discussion first.

"This is a community conversation and ultimately a board conversation," Perry said. "I don't know how you decide who should have a gun and who shouldn't (in schools)."

Both Brazeau and Perry said a myriad of issues would need to be addressed, including how to prevent guns on school campus from falling into students hands and other unintended consequences.

Also, any plan to arm teachers would add a hefty responsibility to already busy educators.

Tom Patton, a teacher at Talmadge Middle School in Independence who is also a former police officer, said any program proposing to arm teachers should require intense training.

"It would have to be part of a rigorous program and it would have to be completely voluntary," said Patton, who was not speaking on behalf of the district.

Designated employees would have to have thorough and ongoing training similar to police. There may also be a need for threat assessment training, negotiation tactics, crowd control and tactical training for use of firearms inside buildings.

Like Perry, Patton believes any such plan should be a community-based decision coordinated with all first-responder agencies.

"I'm thinking it's a decision that has to be made in keeping with the values of the community," Patton said. "It would probably work in some places and not in others."