School safety an ‘ongoing process’ – Krenz: ‘We don’t wait for something to happen’

Published 8:05 am Friday, February 16, 2018

Austin School District administrators meet monthly to discuss emergency situations in the schools and, on a quarterly basis, work through “what if” scenarios related to school safety.

“For us, it is an ongoing process” of considering anything that threatens the safety of the schools’ students,” said Austin Superintendent of Schools David Krenz.

The district enacts nine to 10 drills a year — and of those, five involve simulations of intruders in the schools.

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In the wake of the most recent mass school shooting — Wednesday’s horrific incident in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 17 — school officials continue to weigh safety concerns for their students. Staff made sure Thursday to give students an opportunity to talk about the incident, if needed.

In Austin public schools, Krenz said the leadership has worked to safeguard buildings with entrance security, cameras and crisis planning. That includes working with law enforcement, Krenz said.

Jeff Sampson, superintendent in both the Southland and LeRoy-Ostrander school districts, is concerned students become desensitized to the repeated attacks on schools.

He recalled that as a teacher during the Columbine tragedy, “there were a ton of questions” from students in the tragedy’s aftermath. In 2018, “It’s not a new phenomenon to them; I don’t hear those questions as much.”

“For me, (solutions will be found in) relationships and connecting with students,” he said. “Every child needs to be connected to someone — it could be with a teacher, or coach, or support staff — someone who really cares about them. Not every child has that in their home.”

Sampson said smaller communities may have some advantage in hearing more readily about a student who has an emotional problem, a thought echoed by Pacelli Elementary School Principal Jean McDermott, who also serves as president of the school.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they might not have an issue. School safety drills are also held regularly, she said.

“It is not that we don’t have children who might be struggling,” she said. “We just hope, due to our size, that we might be able to address it more quickly.”

All are concerned with the failure of the mental health system to help people in need.

Krenz said Minnesota has a broken system that is not responding to the needs.

“Government has continued to take money away from communities to provide these services,” Krenz said. “Schools aren’t trained to be mental health treatment centers,” and neither are jails. “Our society has to find a way to deal with this.”

Sampson said resolving school safety issues will only come with collective effort.

“It is complex problem, and there isn’t just one thing that will solve it,” he added.

Krenz said he believed the conversation has to include gun regulation.

“I’m a hunter myself, but I still believe we need gun control,” he said.

And, he added, he believes there are solutions.

“We have smart enough people who should be able to sit down and figure it out,” he said.