Safety is Hudson school district's No. 1 priority

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In the wake of the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., local schools look to community and families to help keep students safe.

"The event on Wednesday is a nightmare none of us want to experience," Hudson School District Superintendent Nick Ouellette said. "As a school community, we are all committed to ensuring the practices and protocols we have in place are the best they can be. Student and staff safety is paramount to that commitment."

School in the small southeastern Minnesota city of Goodhue is not immune to the threat of violence, and security has been a priority for district administration.

"Even in the incredibly tight-knit community of Goodhue, we spend a fair amount of time focusing on school security, and preparing to protect our kids and staff from many possible types of harm, including a school intruder," Superintendent Mike Redmond wrote in an email. "We are planning for events I hope we never experience."

Barry Cain, Ellsworth Community School District superintendent, said one of the most important safety measures they can take is making sure students know to take threats seriously.

"The biggest thing I would like to stress is the importance of schools, staff and parents to stress that our children need to tell someone if they hear any threat of this nature," Cain said. "This is the first line of defense and needs to be a focus for all of us."

Dr. Rick Spicuzza, Prescott School District superintendent, said keeping students safe is a shared responsibility of the community.

"Prescott's best tool for student safety and security is continued partnership with families, businesses, churches, coaches, civic groups and other citizens who promote and embrace the opportunity to educate [and] empower our students in a safe and nurturing community," Spicuzza said. "But we cannot do it alone."

Each school district has taken its own precautions to make schools as safe as possible.

"I have to believe every school, public and private, takes student safety and security very seriously," Spicuzza said. "From safety drills for every possible tragic event to tackling tough issues like bullying and social media use, all school systems approach safety as proactively as possible."

Training students and staff for potential issues is one of the many safety issues schools have taken.

"Our district has been involved in active shooter trainings to learn more about the latest strategies in dealing with these situations," Cain said. "We have had administrators and teachers involved in this training along with local law enforcement officers. We have also provided staff trainings on site for the entire staff."

At the New Richmond School District, New Richmond School District Administrator Patrick Olson said all new staff (including substitutes) are trained in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) and get a refresher course annually. In past years this refresher course has been done with live scenarios, discussions, additional education and other practice sessions.

"On an annual basis, in collaboration with the New Richmond Police Department, we discuss, educate, and conduct on-site drills around an active shooter situation at both the middle school and high school in some manner," Olson said. "With elementary students this topic is approached as it comes up. We are very sensitive to this topic with our elementary aged students. We have age appropriate resources that staff use if needed. We also try to educate parents to help them have these sensitive conversations at home to further address this topic."

Jamie Benson, River Falls School District superintendent, said his district has a 35-person district crisis response team composed of district staff, local police and EMTs that review policies and protocols for crisis situations.

"Our protocol is research-based and supported by many police agencies across the nation," Benson said. "We do a closed-door rehearsal with students in class related to the protocols that are to be implemented in the event of such an emergency."

Hudson School District sent a letter to parents after the Florida tragedy explaining some ways in which Hudson is committed to keeping students safe.

"We are one of a few schools in the area that has held full-scale active shooter training in partnership with our city and county law enforcement and emergency response personnel," the letter states. "We routinely practice lockdown drills and hold table top training exercises with each school's emergency response team. We have spent time training our staff on the use of assessment tools that help us identify and intervene with students who may need support."

High school principal Michele Rehder leads a Goodhue Public Schools safety team that works to improve emergency preparation and stay current on training to prevent intruders.

The district also has a strong partnership with Goodhue police, Redmond said. The school campus hosted a training exercise in summer 2017 with area law enforcement and first responders.

"I would suggest the best line of defense for any school or school district is to do everything possible to build strong, trusting relationships between all the members of the school community, and especially between the students and the adult staff members," Redmond continued. "This is an area that I'm very proud of in Goodhue. The adults in our building know our students amazingly well, and they have a level of concern for the wellbeing of each and every student that I would put up against that of any other school in the country."

Besides training staff, physical security measures are added to schools to help protect students and staff.

"Many of the measures in place are to limit access (like locked entry during school hours), monitor activity (cameras) and react to a specific situation (emergency drills)," Spicuzza said. "In Prescott, we review these procedures and processes every year and throughout the school year."

Security measures are a priority in many schools.

"[W]e have added greater security for the three buildings we now have in place that have included electronically locked doors and security card entrances along with a large expansion of cameras in all buildings," Cain said. "Security was a major focus during the construction of the new elementary school."

The building referendum passed by Red Wing voters in 2016 allowed for significant security enhancements. After construction is completed this summer, all schools in Red Wing will have secure entrances, said Kevin Johnson, director of buildings, grounds and technology. Security cameras have also been upgraded.

In the nearby Cannon Falls Area Schools, a K-12 district of more than 1,100 pupils, nearly $300,000 has been spent on security upgrades in the past five years, according to Superintendent Beth Giese.

"As of 2017 all our district buildings are in a lockdown at all times, which means visitors must come through the offices to enter any of our buildings," Giese wrote in an email, adding the district also has an extensive camera system.

Benson said the River Falls District keeps all school building entrances locked and anyone who enters the building must pass through the main office.

The district referendum, Benson said, made the front entrance security measures possible. He also said each school is equipped with security cameras.

School districts work hard to be prepared for any situation that may arise and have practices and protocols in place to keep everyone in the school safe.

"We work closely with law enforcement and our community emergency response personnel to make sure we are prepared and are using best practice protocols for responding to a wide range of crises," Ouellette said. "The event on Wednesday is a nightmare none of us want to experience."

Red Wing School District Superintendent Karsten Anderson said every building within the district has a crisis management plan. Each plan provides protocols for staff in the event of a emergency situation.

"We provide training to staff and conduct drills throughout the year," Anderson said.

Responding to a changing world, school districts review their crisis policies to make sure these policies are up to date and offer the best safety practices possible for students.

"School District Crisis Plans have changed dramatically over time as responses to events and tragedies have changed," Cain said. "We will continue [to] update our plans as best practices change."

Working together is one of the keys to providing a safe environment at schools.

"As a district our focus is to be proactive and prepare our staff for these types of situations," Olson said. "We continue to discuss the many layers of this epidemic with all educational stakeholders to unite together to help address this issue at all levels."

The number one priority of everyone involved is to keep students and staff safe.

"As a school community, we are all committed to ensuring the practices and protocols we have in place are the best they can be," Ouellette said. "Student and staff safety is paramount to that commitment."

Reporters Samantha Bengs, Jordan Willi, Gretta Stark, Rebecca Mariscal, Michael Brun and John Russett contributed to this report.