Connecticut school shootings: Minnesota began stepping up school security after Columbine
By Mila Koumpilova and Mara H. Gottfried, Pioneer Press, December 15, 2012 – News of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting stirred fear in parents far flung from the tragedy.
So here in Minnesota, districts and schools hastened to send a reassuring message: We have stepped up our security game in recent years.
After two deadly school shootings in the early 2000s, the state has required public schools to run annual lockdown drills and rally around plans for handling threats.
And though it remains easy to walk in and roam the hallways of some schools, others have tightened up building access.
Minnesota districts have come a long way since the Columbine High School shootings, said state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Wade Setter, who ran the state’s now-defunct School Safety Center. “I sincerely believe we are significantly better off responding today than we were in 1999.”
After the Columbine massacre, all police officers in Minnesota received “active shooter” training so they could enter schools and confront intruders before a SWAT team arrives, Setter said.
After two fatal Minnesota shootings — at Rocori High School in 2003 in Cold Spring and Red Lake High School in 2005 — the state nudged schools to revisit safety plans and train staff, Setter said. The Safety Center closed in 2011 after running out of federal funding.
Since 2007, Minnesota has required all schools to conduct five lockdown drills a year. It is not clear how closely the state monitors compliance.
Chuck Holden, who is in charge of security in Anoka-Hennepin schools, said his district and others have upgraded their preparation for security threats.
His district’s emergency plans extend down to the classroom level, Holden said: Teachers have cards — red for trouble, green for all clear — to hang on classroom doors to alert first-responders sweeping a building after an incident.
In addition, teachers are trained to lock classroom doors, move students away from windows and instruct them to be quiet.
In St. Paul, spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey said: “Our security management plan is and must remain confidential. Otherwise, it makes us vulnerable.”‘
Like a small number of other Minnesota districts, St. Paul works with a private security firm, whose guards monitor schools alongside resource officers from St. Paul police.
Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said more schools appoint staff to monitor comings and goings. But districts must strike a balance between remaining inviting to legitimate visitors — and giving too much access.
“There have been steps in the right direction, but it’s challenging,” Amoroso said.
Mike Downs, head of Mounds Park Academy in Maplewood, said the private school tightened its entrance procedures last year. One of its entrances is now locked for most of the day; at the other, a greeter at a reception desk dispenses visitor badges.
He and other staff also regularly greet guests while educators watch for visitors without badges.
But Downs said the school’s most important security procedure is staying tuned to how its students are faring academically and emotionally.
News of the Newtown shootings spurred a range of reactions in Minnesota. A gun rights advocacy group urged schools to allow educators to bring guns to campus, saying permit holders can do that with a school official’s written permission. The group, Minnesota’s Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, also offered free gun training to school staff.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Education Minnesota, the teachers union, both urged schools and districts to review their security procedures and refresh staff’s knowledge of them.
Mo Canady, National Association of School Resource Officers executive director, said talking about how schools ensure safety with parents allays fears — and can have practical benefits: “They can also bring fresh ideas.”