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TIM LUTZ COLUMN: Rethinking and improving school safety

“Are our schools safe?” This is a question we take very seriously at Bemidji Area Schools and work to improve upon every day. We know if we want our students, staff and community to reach their full potential, we must take a comprehensive approach to school safety.

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“Are our schools safe?”

This is a question that administrators, teachers, parents, students and communities have asked themselves since Nov. 30 when we all watched in horror the scenes from Oxford High School in Michigan where the latest mass school shooting occurred.

Our hearts hurt for the Oxford community, and we asked ourselves, “what if this had been our school?” In a few days the news cycle will move on, but, unfortunately, the community of Oxford will not. They will be dealing with the scars from the shooting for decades to come, and the rest of us will take a deep breath and hope this will be the last school shooting.

Can these acts of violence be stopped? Absolutely, but to stop them, we must rethink school safety.

At Bemidji Area Schools we began rethinking school safety over the past three years. We began by adopting the Safe and Sound Schools’ Comprehensive Approach to School Safety, known as the “Big 6” which include: mental and behavioral health; physical environment; culture, climate and community; operations and emergency management; physical health and wellness; and leadership, law and policy.

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Physical Environment: We have added more layers of safety to our campuses. You may have noticed more cameras and buzzers at entrances. By adding these layers of protection, we are able to screen who comes into our schools. We have also updated parking lots so traffic flows safer around our buildings.

Operations and Emergency Management: We are extremely proud of what we have done over the past three years in this arena. We have worked with local law enforcement, first responders, the Minnesota School Safety Center, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure our Emergency Operation Plans are in line with “best practices.” Our EOP outlines our response to any crisis that could occur on school grounds.

We have done our best to prepare for as many situations as possible. However, we cannot foresee every emergency situation that could arise. This is why we have adopted the Standard Response Protocol from the “I Love U Guys” Foundation.

The SRP is the “lexicon” of school safety and is how we will communicate during a crisis at school. There are five actions: Hold, Secure, Lockdown, Evacuate and Shelter. Each action has specific instructions that can build on each other.

Over the past months, we have trained staff and students on these actions and responses and have worked closely with law enforcement and first responders so they know our plans. We are now ready to roll them out to parents and the entire community by sending letters home in the next few weeks that will explain each action and what parents should do in each situation.

This program is used all over the United States and Canada. We are thrilled to announce that the Bemidji school district is one of the first schools in Minnesota to officially adopt it.

Mental and Behavioral Health: It is no secret people are struggling mentally these days. Schools are no exception. One of the best ways we can help students is by recognizing when they are in crisis and taking action to help them.

In Bemidji schools, we realize how important it is to support mental health and to help students in crisis, so we are working with several national organizations to develop an assessment plan for our schools. In the meantime, how can we help students cope? We can support and listen to them and, most importantly “if you see something, say and do something.”

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“Are our schools safe?” This is a question we take very seriously at Bemidji Area Schools and work to improve upon every day. We know if we want our students, staff and community to reach their full potential, we must take a comprehensive approach to school safety.

We cannot teach and learn if we are not safe, and our number one priority is safety for everyone in our schools. I am proud of what we have done and what we continue to do to keep Bemidji Area Schools safe.

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)

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