Red Lake gets state's attention

ST. PAUL -- Days after the shooting last March 21 on the Red Lake Reservation, thousands gathered outside the State Capitol for a healing ceremony to mourn the 10 people who died in the attack.

ST. PAUL -- Days after the shooting last March 21 on the Red Lake Reservation, thousands gathered outside the State Capitol for a healing ceremony to mourn the 10 people who died in the attack.

Since then, lawmakers have pushed for measures that would help the Red Lake School District financially as it repairs its buildings and tries to move beyond the tragedy.

Legislators also have promoted a proposal requiring school staff and students across Minnesota to rehearse their reaction to emergencies - a response to the Red Lake incident and other acts of violence in the classroom.

"I think there's a recognition on the state's part that when communities have tragedies, we step in and help," said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, whose district includes the Red Lake area.

The Legislature first stepped in last spring when it gave Red Lake roughly $50,000 in emergency relief for costs incurred following the shooting. Lawmakers did so, Skoe said, with the understanding that more funding could follow when expenses were tallied.


"It's not reasonable that the state doesn't help with the costs," he said.

Earlier this month Skoe introduced a bill in the Senate providing Red Lake with roughly $523,000 more in emergency state aid to cover the remainder of expenses from the shooting.

Red Lake schools Superintendent Stuart Desjarlait said the district chose to renovate areas of the High School building where the shooting took place so students and staff wouldn't be forced to return to those rooms. The district also paid for additional security cameras to be installed throughout the school building, and door locks were replaced.

"They helped us out quite a bit," Desjarlait said of lawmakers.

In addition to aid sent from St. Paul, Red Lake received money from the federal government. But the district had to tap its general fund to cover what remained. General fund money is normally is used to pay for teachers and student services.

That was a big hit to the impoverished district.

"They don't have any money to do it," said Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, who also represents Red Lake. "This is paying for needed repairs."

Some believe the tragic scenario that played out one year ago has elicited more sympathy among legislators toward Red Lake's situation. Both House and Senate committees have recommended Red Lake receive enough public works funding money, which the state borrows, to complete ongoing construction projects at the Middle School and High School. The district sought more for additional projects.


"Is this one more emotional?" Skoe said of Red Lake legislation versus other proposals heard at the Capitol. "Probably."

"It's not a regular bill," added Sailer. "It's sad."

Not long after the shootings, a proposal was introduced that would require schools to practice emergency lockdown drills at least five times each year.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, who is sponsoring the measure, said the timing of the bill's introduction was coincidental. But in recent committee testimony he cited Red Lake and other acts of school violence. Students should be more prepared to react to an emergency in their classroom or hallways, he said.

"They are all required to have a plan. All I'm saying is practice the plan," the Grove City Republican and retiring high school teacher said.

Desjarlait, of Red Lake, said the district had practiced emergency drills even before the shooting, but he said it is good for all schools to conduct the drills.

Lawmakers said they won't know until the end of the legislative session how much more state funding Red Lake will receive and whether the lockdown measure will pass.

In the meantime, the anniversary of the shooting will be acknowledged at the Capitol and elsewhere.


Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who took part in the healing ceremony one year ago, declared that a moment of silence be held at 2 p.m. today to mourn the Red Lake shooting victims.

"I hope the strong people of Red Lake have found some solace since the senseless loss of their loved ones," Pawlenty said.

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