The Ottumwa Courier

August 16, 2013

Staying safe in school

Courier staff writer

---- — ALBIA — Weather emergencies, investigating abuse and even teaching kids to look both ways before crossing the street are all subjects teachers will discuss as they head back to school. Yet it was security of a different sort being rehearsed in Monroe County this week.

Albia Schools Superintendent Kevin Crall discussed the "active shooter" training conducted on school property. But before the Albia Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff's Department arrived to conduct a simulation Thursday, there was classwork.

"We had about 140 staff show up, including [some] substitute teachers," Crall said Friday.

The "admin team" and several teachers shared knowledge they gained at ALICE training.

"ALICE stands for Alert, Lock Down, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The gist of ALICE is to empower teachers to keep kids safe if there is an active shooter in the building," Crall said.

They're empowered because rather than having one reaction set in stone, like telling everyone to get under their desk and stay there, ALICE provides a choice of responses.

So one teacher in the hallway adjacent to shooting might lock their door and move students out of sight, Crall said. Another might see shooting is occurring on the other side of the building and decide they are going to get their students out of there.

"Pick the best option for you and your students based on real-time information," Crall said.

At Cardinal Middle High School, Principal Jeremy Hissem was going through the safety bags recently donated by the Wapello County Sheriff's Office and the Wapello County Department of Public Health. There were a lot of good components; so many, in fact, they were taking items out to reduce weight.

"We're in the process of building new safety plans," said Hissem. "This being Iowa, I think we're pretty good about tornado drills, obviously."

The kids will practice four simulated emergencies this year.

"That's actually state law. Two fire drills and two tornado drills," Hissem said.

They may add intruder drills to the mix this year.

"We've partnered with the sheriff's department, and it's been a very positive partnership," he said.

In Ottumwa, they actually have binders in each school office. Those folders describe exactly what to do in case of an emergency.

"Each building puts together emergency procedures, a safety plan," said Principal Jeff Hendred at Horace Mann Elementary School. "It lists how we'll evacuate, how we keep track of the kids, who makes phone calls to the [district] central office. It's so detailed because we're responsible for so many children."

He said as his building practices the procedures, he'll watch to see what works and what doesn't. The plans, with approval, can be adjusted annually.

"We hope there are no emergencies, but we're ready to respond," Hendred said. "We've gone through and practiced, and there is a copy in each teachers' classroom, so we know what to do and it's not just something that's in a book."

Another plan that he says is unfortunate but necessary is how to help students when a child dies. The district put together a crisis intervention plan, he said, and he's seen it used when young people die in a car accident or from suicide. Teachers are told what to look for in a child who may need support during the grieving process, Hendred said.

While nearly all safety and security measures are the job of an adult at the school, there is a chance for students to practice an adult level of discipline: becoming a crossing guard on the school safety patrol.

The job goes to fifth-graders judged to be mature enough for the job.

"Those kids take their responsibility seriously, and they are trained," Hendred said.

The students are very enthusiastic about doing their duty and sometimes have to be reined in from reprimanding adults who may violate safety rules or even the law. It's rare for crossing guards to goof off while on duty, he said. When it does happen, it usually works out well as a reminder to other patrol guards. The safety of students is very important.

"We're very alert as staff to remind them," Hendred said. "It's not uncommon to take a student off of patrol for a period of time. It reinforces that important message. You are on duty, and your job is to be alert."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark