In an earlier article, I discussed how schools have changed drastically in less than a generation. One of the greatest changes has been in how school security and safety are handled. When I was a student, the only safety measures that my school undertook were fire drills. I remember lots of rules, but they dealt with dress codes, smoking in the bathrooms, running in the hallways, and chewing gum. Very few, if any, rules or regulations dealt with other areas of school safety and security.

In today’s world, school safety and security are at the forefront of any school administrator’s work. It is fitting to note that Saturday, March 21 is the 15th anniversary of the tragic shooting at Red Lake High School. Emergencies, such as school shootings, are the reason school districts must have crisis plans in place for many situations. But who would have expected that a pandemic would be another reason?

The Bemidji School District has been working on developing a district-wide Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) that will complement our numerous emergency manuals and crisis plans found in each of our school buildings. The EOP is designed to help district officials anticipate and prepare for any possible emergency scenario, both natural and man-made. It includes an assessment tool that helps us measure the potential likelihood of any emergency occurring in our district. Some emergencies are listed as likely or very likely, while others, like earthquakes, are considered to be quite unlikely.

Interestingly, when we started working on the EOP last fall, the consensus was that a viral pandemic hitting our area would be unlikely. How things have changed in just a few months. We are currently revising that assessment to indicate that pandemics, such as COVID-19, are very likely, and we will continue to list pandemics as very likely in the future. We have been working very hard to prevent and to prepare for the potential arrival of the virus in our area. We certainly hope we will never need to use our emergency planning protocols and procedures to deal with actual cases of COVID-19, but if that becomes necessary, we will be prepared. Thanks to our preparation and the existence of our All-Hazards Emergency Operations Plan, we will be ready should the virus arrive in the Bemidji area.

Because we have such comprehensive plans in place, the Bemidji School District has been able to respond nimbly and efficiently to the executive order Gov. Tim Walz issued last Sunday. In less than 60 hours, the district’s food service department was prepared to make hundreds of Grab-‘N’-Go breakfasts and lunches for delivery or pickup. During the same limited timeframe, the transportation department was able to re-route buses to pick up students of emergency workers and to deliver hundreds of school meals to students in their homes. In less than three days’ time, these great servant leaders were able to accomplish something that has never been done before in our district.

During the next few days, our administrators and teachers will be creating distance learning lessons and plans so that students will be able to continue learning from home. This is another huge undertaking that has never before been accomplished. I am confident we will be ready.

I am extremely grateful for the dedicated staff and leadership at Bemidji Area Schools. I am proud to be able to serve this district as its superintendent, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our students, our families, and our community. Finally, I am extremely thankful to the many local organizations, businesses and individuals who have offered time, talents, space, meals for leadership meetings, and words of support and encouragement.

By working together, we will get through this difficult time.

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net.