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TIM LUTZ COLUMN: Preparing for the unexpected

We live in the Northland. We know there are going to be snow days and two-hour delays. These situations are expected. But what about situations that could occur at school that are not expected?

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As a youngster, I still remember the excitement of listening to the radio and waiting to hear those magical words “no school tomorrow — snow day.”

There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting a “day off” from school. Today, we may still hear those words on the radio, by phone or email.

There is still excitement when a “weather-related” call or email comes from ISD31. Students and parents are often eager to hear if we will have a two-hour late start or a snow day.

We live in the Northland. We know there are going to be snow days and two-hour delays. As parents, we have plans regarding how these days will work. We are prepared for those phone calls and emails. We even have plans for when the school nurse calls to say our child is sick.

These situations are expected. What about situations that could occur at school that are not expected?

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It is the unexpected or “school crisis” that the Bemidji School District has been tirelessly working on for the past three years.

The definition of a school crisis is broad. Dr. Todd Savage’s definition, “a school crisis can be anything from a hangnail … to an act of war,” shows how many emergencies a school could face. How can we prepare for such a broad spectrum of incidents?

It is a daunting task. Thankfully, we have support from the Bemidji Police Department, Beltrami County Sheriff Department and Bemidji Fire Department. These experts have given countless hours helping to make sure we are prepared for a school crisis.

We have been working to prepare our buildings, our staff and our students for any unexpected crisis. Now, it is time to prepare our parents and community for their responsibilities and what to expect during an emergency incident.

One of the most important actions a parent can take is to make sure their contact information stays updated with the district including a new cell phone number, address, email or emergency contact.

Please keep school offices updated on your contact information. If you have children in several school buildings, each office should have your contact information. We cannot communicate with you if we do not have your current information.

The next actions are a lot to ask of our parents and community: “stay home, stay informed and be prepared.” There are reasons we ask this.

Stay home: During an emergency at school, it is imperative that we let first responders do what they do best. If hundreds of parents show up at a school, we could actually delay the help that is needed.

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Stay informed: In an emergency, the district will notify parents as soon as possible. Many of us are parents also, and we know parents will be anxious. The district will notify you through phone and email of the emergency incident.

Please know if first responders are involved, we will be working with them to make sure accurate information and updates are released in a timely manner. Please remember, communications from the district are the trusted source during a school emergency.

Be prepared: If there is a need to relocate students for pickup at another location, please know parents/guardians may be asked to show identification. Students may only be released to people who are listed in the students’ files as “may pick up.”

If a reunification site is needed, the district will communicate this site information through email and phone calls. Other reliable sources for reunification sites are local radio stations and official district websites and social media sites.

In the next few weeks, please watch your email as more school safety tips will be sent to parents. We know we are prepared for the expected snow days and late starts. We are Minnesotans. Bemidji School District needs the support of parents and the entire community to make sure we are prepared for the unexpected as well.

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

Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz. (Pioneer file photo)
(Pioneer file photo)

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