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JEREMY OLSON COLUMN: Enhancing school safety at Bemidji Area Schools

Bemidji Area Schools has adopted what is known as a “standard response” protocol in cooperation with local law enforcement and under the guidance of our emergency operations committee. These responses are designed to keep students safe and provide common language throughout the district for how to respond to a variety of situations.

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Greetings from Bemidji Area Schools! As I write this we are in week five and it appears to be a very good start to the school year. Buses are running, kids are learning, and students are competing.

As you walk through the halls of Bemidji Area Schools, you get a sense that things are back to normal. I am very thankful to see students connecting with each other, collaborating together towards educational aims and enjoying athletic events together. This is a great way to start the 2022-2023 school year.

The Bemidji school board has established three focus areas for this school year: Rebuilding Enrollment, Enhance School Safety and Increase Mental Health Services.

I want to highlight the focus on enhancing school safety as this topic is on many parents' minds after the tragic events that unfolded this spring in Uvalde Texas. While it is very unfortunate that we even have to discuss this type of topic, we are charged with keeping our students safe.

As such Bemidji Area Schools has adopted what is known as a “standard response” protocol in cooperation with local law enforcement and under the guidance of our emergency operations committee. These responses are designed to keep students safe and provide common language throughout the district for how to respond to a variety of situations.

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I want to walk you through the five standard responses so that you as a community member know what each of these responses means for our students and staff.

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There are five standard responses as part of Bemidji Area Schools' new "standard response" protocol.
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  • Hold is followed by “In your room or area. Clear the halls” and is the protocol used when the hallways need to be kept clear of people.
  • Secure is followed by “Get inside, lock outside doors” and is the protocol used to safeguard students and staff within the building.
  • Lockdown is followed by “Locks, lights, out of sight” and is the protocol used to secure individual rooms and keep students quiet and in place.
  • Evacuate may be followed by a location, and is the protocol used to move students and staff from one location to a different location in or out of the building.
  • Shelter is always followed by the hazard and a safety strategy and is the protocol for group and self-protection.

Examples where these standard responses could be used:
Hold: To preserve student dignity, such as a medical incident in which you would not want students in the hallways.

Secure: To safeguard students and prepare the school in case a greater threat could emerge. This could be events such as a fugitive on the run near a school. This would be a situation in which we would secure the doors and keep students inside until the potential threat had passed.

Lockdown: This is a situation in which there is a potential for an imminent threat to the school.

Evacuate: This is a situation in which we need to get students out of the school for safety reasons. Gas leaks or other events in which having students in the school is no longer safe.

Shelter: A situation such as a tornado or severe weather in which the safest option is to stay in the school.

I hope this gives you a good understanding of the terminology that we use and in which cases these standard responses would be used. We know and feel the great responsibility put on educators to keep our students safe.

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Our students mean so much to us and it is therefore our responsibility to do everything we can to keep students safe. Our staff continues to work incredibly hard to safeguard your students' safety.

As a parent of four daughters who attend Bemidji Area Schools, I wanted to share with you the responses that we use and what they mean for your students.

If you have any questions or concerns about what we are doing to increase safety for our schools, please feel free to contact me. It is my absolute privilege to serve as your superintendent of schools. Go Jacks!

Jeremy Olson is the superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached at (218) 407-9645 or dr_jeremy_olson@isd31.net.

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We appear to be slightly ahead of last year in enrollment based on historical data. Enrollment continues to be a large focus for the district as we seek to increase our enrollment over the next couple of years.

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