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Your Schools: Plans in place to ensure student safety

Since the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Conn. just a month ago, I have been asked repeatedly about the safety measures in place in River Falls to keep our children and staff safe.

It occurred to me that perhaps our public wasn't aware of all the efforts we make to try to diminish the chances that anyone in our district is hurt. For example, did you know?

--That our school district has a District Crisis Response Team consisting of 25 members that meet monthly to address crisis prevention and security?

The response team is a collaborative effort from all of our public schools, St Bridget Parish School, and UWRF and comprised of administrators, teachers, support staff, school nurse, parents, counselors, custodian, and the police officer who is also our district's on-staff liaison officer.

One of the major tasks of this group is also to convene immediately to respond to any crises affecting the district, and to review our district's response after any crisis in order to make our buildings even safer.

--That all buildings also have a Building Crisis Response Team and a Medical Response Team, consisting of building employees who are trained to prevent and address crises? These teams regularly drill on processes to be put into place if a crisis or medical emergency occurs.

--That the superintendent and school liaison officer meet monthly with the City of River Falls Emergency Management Team to review emergency procedures and training opportunities?

These meetings and "table top drills" with the River Falls police chief, sergeant, and staff; River Falls fire chief; River Falls Emergency Management Services; St. Croix and Pierce County Emergency Management Directors; UWRF police chief; and River Falls Hospital staff are designed to bring us together regularly to review emergency procedures and personnel in order to prevent crises and also to address emergencies that have community-wide impact.

--That our school counselors and psychologists meet monthly to address social/emotional issues in the district and are always on call to assist families and employees when emergencies occur? In fact, counselors and school psychologists make up a Grief Response Team that addresses district or individual building needs post-crisis.

--That we have an extensive crisis plan in River Falls Public Schools that covers multiple crisis scenarios, complete with roles of staff, emergency procedures for evacuation and lockdown, student data needed during crisis, and emergency equipment and contact numbers.

--That our building referendum passed in November, 2011 included a large amount of money for improving safety and security in the buildings? Some of those measures include secure front entries, relocation of administrative offices, security cameras, internal lockdown measures, and bus/car separation at the elementary schools.

--That the school board has temporarily placed greeters at the front entries of Greenwood and Westside Schools to sign in all visitors and deny entry to anyone unwilling or unable to demonstrate their purpose for entering the schools? This will be in place until offices are moved next summer.

--That only the front doors on our schools are unlocked once the school day begins, while all other doors are locked and can only be entered with a key or fob.

--That we regularly practice with students the necessary response to various crisis situations? This includes fire and tornado drills, lockdowns, and building evacuations.

An extensive emergency drill was held last year at River Falls High School, where the City of River Falls police, EMS, and fire departments, Pierce County, and regional SWAT team assisted us in practicing an active shooter drill with high school students present.

The emergency personnel responding to our drill gave us very high marks for how we prevented injury to students and staff with our emergency plans, and our district is planning for another drill with a different scenario at another school next year.

These are but a few of the actions occurring in the School District of River Falls, and you can see that our district treats very seriously the responsibility for keeping everyone in our schools safe and secure.

There are no guarantees, however, as Newtown, Cold Spring-Rocori, and many other communities have found.

Arming our staff with guns is not the answer. Many of our employees have expressed their willingness to do anything in their power to protect our children short of arming themselves with a handgun.

Metal detectors aren't the answer, as many schools have found that the bad guys will still find their way into buildings with weapons.

Police presence at the front door is not the answer, since students go outside during the day for recess, phy. ed., and other educational activities, plus arming a good guy at the front door just means the bad guy has to come better prepared to take out the good guy first.

The best avenue to protect children and staff is through communication: communications among parents, students, administration, and staff about how things are going in school; about what is being said and done between and among students and adults; about how to get the appropriate help for mental health issues before a crisis occurs; about analyzing threats made about anyone or any place in schools and reacting appropriately; and about being attuned to conflicts, crimes, family or staff emergencies that may lead eventually to harming of others.

As you can see, some of that communication is regularly occurring in our district through our various crisis prevention efforts

For us to succeed in protecting all children, visitors in our schools, parents, guardians, interested citizens, staff, everyone must stay in communication with the district to let us know about potentially dangerous situations.

That's another reason that River Falls Public Schools are EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS!