School safety first
Days after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, the incident still consumed Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff.
McNeff, like thousands of school administrators nationwide, has spent the last week contemplating safety and security procedures at the schools he calls home.
McNeff, also the father of a kindergartner, said all of the procedures within the district are being reviewed with the help of school officials and local authorities and will be revamped.
“It makes you question what we are doing within our schools currently,” McNeff said. “How do you prevent something like this in the future?”
In the days following the tragic event, McNeff met with principals at Ely Elementary and Rugby High School and separately with Rugby Police Chief John Rose.
“Every school has some sort of plan in place,” McNeff said. “So does Rugby. We practice our lockdown procedures and we have different emergency drills, but it causes me to ask the question what more can we do.”
McNeff said there’s a fine line between safety and security and having an open, accessible school where students can thrive.
“You want the school to be a safe place and a place where people can come and go,” he said. “You want the parents and community to be involved in your school but you also have to walk that line and think about safety and security. We don’t want this place to be a fortress. We want it to be a place where people can come and go but we also have to start looking at what we can do. We need to do more, and what is it that we need to do that’s going to prevent or minimize something like this.”
McNeff said just because Rugby is a small community doesn’t mean it can dismiss the chance of something similar happening.
He pointed to an incident in Fairmount, N.D., just more than two months ago when a student brought a gun into class and shot himself.
“I think you always have that mentality that we live in small-town North Dakota and these things don’t happen,” he said. “It can happen here, so what can we do to prevent it.”
McNeff said he and other administrators will be reviewing building layouts as well as emergency procedures.
Rugby High School was renovated over the past year, leaving the building with a single access point and separating the classrooms from the main front of the building.
“The custodial staff in both buildings go around and make sure throughout the day that all doors are locked and there’s one entrance,” he said. “Some other things have been installed in both schools. There are 20-30 security cameras that are around the building in the high school and a similar number in the elementary.”
McNeff said all procedures will be evaluated to find the best balance of safety and public access.
“You’re trying to have that balance,” he said. “A kid needs to feel safe too. If we’re locking down the thing and have metal detectors and security guards it really doesn’t become school anymore it becomes more of a prison. We don’t want it to be that way but we also understand the need for security.”
McNeff said safety is the No. 1 goal and he feels Rugby students are safe, but the schools must prepare for the unexpected.
“It’s just if somebody wants to do something like this they’re going to find a way to do it,” he said. “We just have to be on our toes. That’s the scary part.”
He also said there may be new mandates coming from the next legislative session, which may include funding for a school resource officer for a school Rugby’s size.
He said the elementary and high school have different plans with many similarities in procedure.
“We’ve got to look at our changes,” McNeff said. “Our plan was implemented in 2007. There’s been a lot of change with the high school building and changes of staff that were a part of this emergency team.”
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