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Protecting children

By Staff | Mar 23, 2018

Bonnie Remmick/PCT David Anderson, a paraeducator at Ely Elementary in Rugby, enters the school via a badge reader. All entrances to main school classrooms are locked.

“Times have changed,” said Sheriff Josh Siegler. “No one thinks a school shooting will happen here but if it does, we’ll do what we are trained to and that is to neutralize the threat, whatever that means, it could be a surrender.”

In shooter scenarios, law enforcement agencies statewide have had to take a position of ‘neutralize the shooter’ as soon as possible. Taking one life, potentially will save many others.

Siegler talked informatively about Rugby teenagers, their vast experience with firearms, and working in unison with local school leaders, emergency responders, and Pierce County Emergency Management on drills. Another evacuation and emergency drill will be conducted in the near future.

“We are looking at revising plans for rural coverage at the state level. Places like Wolford who do not have an officer present, could be covered by the State Highway Patrol.” “There is also an Association of Counties who will coordinate coverage in an emergency, such as Rolette responders.”

Rugby Chief of Police John Rose said “there is a disconnect with our schools that we are working on bridging. We want to build relationships with the schools to ensure all our safety. We don’t want to get in a position of being separate. We want a presence and to connect with our schools. We are prepared to act should an event occur.”

Sheriff Siegler emphasized, “We need to be told early, who these kids are, and it could save lives, if someone knows in the school system. If students and teachers are paired up, one on one and a potential problem identified, communication is key, and it can save lives.”

The sheriff also mentioned that a plan is to have a new counselor in place by fall, who will work with the school district, which was announced earlier by Rugby School District Superintendent Mike McNeff. This person will also work with those at the Heart of America Correctional & Treatment Center (HACTC), and will provide mental health services for those in need. He said the Sheriff’s Office is working with Social Services also in identifying community mental health needs. “Although we are working on many things for prevention, we are also prepared as we can be, for an actual emergency.”

Protecting our school age children has become a priority for leaders in our local government, school community in light of recent school shootings and incidents. School protection is a very specific and physical location dependent. For instance, Wolford, is a minimum 40 minute response from Rugby, that’s not to say other law enforcement may be readily available from the Highway Patrol or a nearby county.

School security for educational leaders and our law enforcement in Pierce County has become a working partnership.

The Pierce County School districts which consists of Rugby High School, and Ely Elementary School, Wolford School, and Little Catholic Flower School are implementing school safety and security. Each school has existing security policies in place.

The Wolford School District’s Superintendent Larry Zavada from Wolford, says his security needs for the school differs substantially from others. “Its frustrating,” he said. “It deters from me trying to provide education needs because it has taken so much time away from my focus of education. “However school safety is very important. We are 40 minutes away from an ER/Security response at the earliest.”

One thing Wolford implemented was a physical building awareness for the Pierce County Sheriff, Zavada said. Zavada explained that it is very important that local law enforcement know the building, where exits are, where security cameras are, and how to access them. Wolford developed an executive plan. They deployed 16 security cameras with eight monitors outside. Every entrance and every exit is monitored non-stop. Wolford does not have a security officer, and no one is armed.

During the days, Wolford’s school doors are all locked. There is an electric main office door where people are buzzed into the building. The school is basically locked down all day. Zavada’s immediate plans are to review the safety plan from top to bottom, and revise an evacuation plan. He also plans to increase staff training to ensure everyone knows the building specifications, security equipment and review the evacuation plan.

McNeff said his vision is to focus on the future, for the overall district. “There are many good things in place, for security and plans being reassessed by the principals and other administrative staff today.” he said. McNeff intends to put a plan in place to “ensure that social communication skills and mental health skills are developed at an early age starting in elementary school.”

Rugby High School’s principal Jared Bilkre said RHS has a policy to ‘know every kid.’ Each student has an adult mentor that has a 1:1 relationship with the student. “It’s all about building relationships,” Bilkre said. “We need to know each and every student, and assure that they are having their needs met, or if something is an issue, that we address it now.”

The high school does have cameras inside and outside the building. Every door is locked, except the main entrance. Some seniors can come and go during the day, and some have a privilege to go out to lunch. Since Rugby has law enforcement only blocks away, response time is not usually an issue for the school. “We care about these kids, and their safety, and will do everything possible to see that they are safe at all times. The staff is trained, we want every staff member to know every kid. It’s all about building relationships,” Bilkre said.

Jason Gullickson, principal at Ely Elementary said the school is locked down all day, and has been since the Sandy Hook shooting. Visitors or outsiders must be buzzed in through the front door by our administrative staff. When the kids are playing outside, there is always a staff member on the playground. They have an evacuation plan in place. “We are working on preventative programs and have involved the counselors, administration and the custodian. We have made social and emotional health of all our students a priority,” Gullickson said. “We practice good citizenship, and involve the kids in learning programs such as our American Health Jump For Health program where the kids fund-raised a lot of money, but they also learned about caring for their hearts by diet and exercise. We work to improve the overall health of the kids.”

Jorgen Knutson, principal of Little Flower School in Rugby, which has students in kindergarten through sixth grade, said “Little Flower also has a policy of keeping the doors locked all day. We have administration and staff trained on our evacuation plan. We have a wonderful close-by police presence. We are small, and we have two really good nuns and two priests who pray a lot.”

Pierce County schools demonstrate readiness for possible incidents, even while many feel such incidents are unlikely.

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