Keeping students safe in school

Security systems, crisis plans in place in Hamilton County schools

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Teresa Wood Northeast Hamilton Associate Superintendent and Principal Mike Kruger stands by the door entry security camera. The school has security entry systems at the north and south doors.

BLAIRSBURG –“Safety is the number one concern for our students,” said Northeast Hamilton’s Associate Superintendent/Principal Mike Kruger in light of the school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14.

Parents can rest assured that Hamilton County area schools are actively taking measures to safeguard students and that they have emergency plans are in place.

“We started a Crisis Team four years ago when I came to Northeast Hamilton,” said Kruger. The team consisted of staff and members of law enforcement. The Crisis Team has since implemented safety precautions, emergency protocol and preventative action guidelines for the school district of 110 students.

The NEH team developed a Crisis Management Plan with the assistance of Iowa State Patrol Trooper Denny Schnathorst. The school’s plan incorporated the Auburn University ALICE system. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, said Kruger.

“Our school, our school board and our community have taken big steps to make our kids safe,” said Kruger. “We have spent a lot of money to ensure their safety.”

Through an Enhance Hamilton County grant, the school was able to install several security measures in the district’s buildings, he said.

In 2016, the school installed an entrance security system, said Kruger. All doors of the school are locked throughout the day and visitors must ring into the main office via the security system. Cameras at each door monitor all visitors and they are only allowed access into the school by a person monitoring the camera. Additional security cameras also monitor activities throughout the campus.

Visitors to the school are also required to check in at the office, he said.

Being prepared is essential to an effective emergency plan, said Kruger. The school practices these emergency drills just as they do fire and tornado drills. After each drill, the staff meets to review and adjust the response process.

In addition, each classroom is equipped with a Crisis Bucket which includes first aid and emergency supplies, as well as an alternative form of communication.

As a safety precaution, Kruger is hesitant to make public many of the procedures, but students and staff are trained to identify and respond to three levels of threats.

A Level One threat is an external situation which takes place outside the school such as a house fire, chemical spill, dangerous animal, suspicious person or a non-custodial parent dispute. School staff is alerted via cell phone or classroom phone. During this type of situation, students are moved indoors where the window blinds are drawn and classroom business is conducted as usual.

A Level Two threat is an external threat that has been identified with the possibility of becoming an internal threat. During this type of threat, classroom instruction will continue with doors closed and locked.

Level Three is the highest threat level with immediate lockdown of all rooms. Students and staff are instructed to stay in place with teachers conducting a head count. Staff and students are instructed to barricade the doors and move to an area safe from view.

At each threat level, an All-Clear signal or further instructions would be delivered through the school intercom system.

NEH also monitors for potential problems by identifying students who may need help, said Kruger.

“We tell kids if it doesn’t look or sound right, report it or bring it to the attention of an adult,” said Kruger. “We want to get kids the help they need.”

“With Pre-K through Sixth Grade students, I don’t believe the threat is as likely as in buildings with older students as far as having a situation like the recent Florida case,” said Kruger. “But we know there have been these situations that have happened at elementary schools across the US, so we have to prepare as best we can”.

Kruger said that the school administration works with local law enforcement and welcomes Hamilton County Sheriff’s Deputy Alex Pruismann into the school on a regular basis.

“Deputy Pruismann comes and does presentations to the students often, so the kids know law enforcement is approachable,” exclaims Kruger. In addition, officers teaching the DARE program are also in the building throughout the year.

Schools need to safeguard students but also provide an atmosphere of learning and nurturing, said Kruger. While some safety precautions may be inconvenient, the public needs to understand their importance.

“We want school to be a welcoming place,” said Kruger. “We have no bars on our windows”.

Being prepared is the first step toward safety, said Kruger.

“It is important to have a plan and that we are prepared,” he said. “We hope we never have to use it, but we will know what to do in an emergency.”

Stratford Elementary

Stratford Elementary School also has an emergency plan for a crisis situation, according to School Principal Josh Culbertson.

“It is a tragedy of our time that we have to make students more aware of these kinds of situations,” said Culbertson.

During the school day, all exterior doors of the building are locked with one exception, he said. Visitors are only allowed access to the building through the entrance door by the main office. All staff members have an access key.

In the event of an emergency, staff and students will be notified via the school public address system, phone calls directly to the classroom or by a series of bells, much like tornado sirens or fire alarms, he said.

The school has three levels of alert, he explained. Code Red is a total lockdown of the school. Code Yellow has students instructed to remain in place in a locked classroom and studies will continue as usual. A Code Green would be total evacuation of the school.

During these events, staff and teachers each have different tasks assigned at different locations throughout the school, explained Culbertson.

The most important thing is for staff and students to be prepared, said Culbertson.

“In theory, it would be no different than in a tornado or fire drill,” he said. “We need to be prepared and make sure that the students and staff know what to do”.

Because the Florida shooter was a former student and appeared to be a troubled youth, questions of pre-emptive action have been raised.

Stratford is a Pre-Kindergarten through Sixth Grade school with a total enrollment of 82 students. One of the benefits of a smaller school is that teachers and staff know every student and can quickly identify someone who is struggling, said Culbertson. “We have a better handle on changes (in behavior) because teachers have had every student (in their classroom) and know them on a daily basis,” said Culbertson.