School shooting.

School shooting stirs us all

Even though the most recent school shooting occurred hundreds of miles away, the news hit school administrators, teachers, students and parents like a ton of bricks in Minneota.

“My initial thoughts were with the students, staff and community of Parkland, FL,” said Minneota superintendent Dan Deitte. “Every time this happens, and it seems to be happening more often every year, I grieve for those communities that have innocent lives taken.”

Around 2:40 p.m. last Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, barged into the high school he had been expelled from last year and shot and killed 17 students and adults in the second-deadliest recorded shooting at a U.S. public school.

Several others were struck and wounded.

“My other thoughts are directed towards the Minneota District and whether we are providing the most secure environment possible for our staff and students,” Deitte reflected.

“I know we have taken many proactive steps the past five years to secure our buildings, but there is always room for improvement.”

The Parkland shootings increased the number of school shootings in the United States to 290 since 2013, including seven in Minnesota elementary, high school or universities.

Not all have resulted in injuries and/or deaths, but the number of firearms being discharged in a school is alarming. Even more alarming is that Parkland was named the safest city in Florida last year. Even more alarming is that Parkland was named the safest city in Florida last year.

“My thoughts went to the staff, students and parents who had just lost someone in a horrific way that they loved, and how badly I feel for their loss and agony,” said Minneota Elementary Principal Jennifer Mahan-Deitte.

“I also thought about previous school shootings that have taken place and the suffering that will resurface for those who have already survived something this devastating.”

To congregate more students and teachers in order to increase his chances of more hits with his semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, Cruz pulled the fire alarm and then fired into the crowded hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

“I hope and pray that this will be the last one,” said Mahan-Deitter. “But I realize that’s not the reality we live in right now.”

Minneota High School Principal Jeremy Frie heard about the recent Florida tragedy as he was meeting with his high school teachers.

“I saw the news on my Twitter feed,” said Frie.

“We talked about it as a staff for a while. It’s hard to see the sadness on a teacher’s face when this subject comes up.”

Minneota Language Arts teacher Heather Anderson was one of those attending the meeting that day. “My first thought was ‘Oh, no. Not again’,” Anderson recalled.

“Like several other teachers, I just sat there shaking my head with a look of concern, frustration and fear as I heard the preliminary details.”

“As a parent and teacher, my heart breaks for the victims, their families, and the school district. School should be a place where the students feel safe. Parents should not ever have to experience sending their kids to schools and not having them return home.”

As these shootings continue to occur, Minneota students are understandably becoming more concerned; wondering if something like this could happen in their school.

“We did have students come to us (the day after the shootings), scared that we could have a school shooting here in Minneota,” said Frie. “There was a different vibe at school today; a more somber vibe.”

“It’s heart-breaking that children have to worry about these things. It’s not just students who are concerned; all adults who work in schools have some level of worry, too.”

Many of Anderson’s students expressed fear and concern the day after the recent shootings. “They had a lot of questions and it was hard listening to them,” Anderson said.

“Their questions revolved around the protocol at our school, even though they have run through it several times in their school years. It was like they wanted to check again that we have a plan in place.”

Minneota Public Schools administrators are working collectively with its staff, as well as consulting with Police Chief Bill Bolt for his input. “My initial thoughts were: ‘Are we doing (everything) we can here in Minneota? Are we fully prepared to handle a crisis like this’,” Frie said.

“Is everyone in our district as trained as they can be?”

“Whenever there is a school shooting, it always triggers conversation with our administrative team to review what we have in place. We met the day after the Florida tragedy and made changes to enhance our classroom security to our upcoming building project based on videos inside the (Florida) classrooms that we saw online.”

School shootings occur due to a combination of reasons. Mental health issues are at the forefront of the problem, making more extensive background checks vital for anyone purchasing a weapon of any kind. Others blame gun control, the violence in video games, lack of parental guidance and discipline, social media hatred, political differences, or reluctance to report suspicious behavior.

“I wish I could pinpoint why so many shootings have happened,” said Mahan-Deitte.

“Then we would have a fighting chance at ending them.”

“However, the reason for something like this happening again and again cannot be attributed to one thing. That may be why it is so hard to predict because there are so many factors that have to come together to create an opportunity and motive for it happening.”

Becoming more vigilant can be a great asset in preventing these shootings as a concerned grandmother in the state of Washington recently proved. Catherine O’Connor thwarted a potential mass shooting the same day Cruz killed 17 students and adults in the Parkland school.

O’Connor’s 18-year-old grandson lived with her in Everett, WA, and came across his journal describing how he was plotting a mass shooting at his high school. In his journal was written:

“I want to make this shooting/bombing infamous. I need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can. I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes so I don’t make the same ones.”

O’Connor called 911 and her grandson was arrested at his school. He is being held on $5 million bail. O’Connor’s willingness to report her own grandson likely saved a countless number of lives. “Prevention of school shootings should not be the sole responsibility of the school,” said Bolt.

“Everyone involved to include family, friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, social media contacts, teachers and so on should be looking for the warning signs and alerting authorities when they have concerns.”

“It is better to say something and be wrong, then to keep silent and have something bad happen,” he added. The drastic rise in mental health issues is alarming and needs to be addressed more substantially. “I don’t know why there are so many school shootings,” Frie said.

“I do know that we are seeing a dramatic increase in mental health issues among students, not just in our school, but all across Minnesota. And I’m sure it’s the same trend all over the country.”

Frie feels more mental health professionals are needed in public schools. “I think that it’s time that the Federal Government unites in a bipartisan fashion to make our schools more secure,” he noted.

“We made airports and airplanes more secure after 9/11. Why can’t we treat schools with the same seriousness?”

At Minneota, the school holds drills throughout the year.

“We have ‘Code Red’ drills, but are looking at possibly revamping our philosophy,” said Frie.

“A team of us are planning to attend an ‘Alice Training’ seminar (for emergency preparedness) this summer.” “Locking down the way we do now is okay, but I think we can tweak some procedures to get kids out of the building and to safety versus simply just sitting and waiting in a dark classroom.” Deitte echoed those sentiments.

“We practice fire, crisis and tornado drills each year,” he said. “These practice drills help us identify what is working and what we may need to improve with our plan, which we share with the staff.”

Not all schools districts secure their buildings while class is in session. Many of these shootings in recent years have seen the shooters enter the building at their own free will.

“All outside doors at our school are locked to the public, except for the main outside doors leading to the K-12 office,” Deitte explained.

“After you gain entrance through those doors, you must be buzzed into the K-12 office to gain further access to the rest of the building. We feel this keeps our building more secure.”

Entrance to the school in the evening and/or weekends requires use of its electronic reader-card system.

“Also, by having an independent fitness center in town, we were able to limit the use of our fitness center to the public,” said Deitte.

“This makes our district even more secure.”

The local fire and police departments also have been assigned the correct keys to enter the Minneota school building in case of an emergency, along with the building maps. “We also made sure we had the keys we needed to take the students and staff to an alternate location in case of an emergency,” Deitte said.

“We created building maps that show exactly a route a staff member should lead the students during an emergency.”

Bolt feels that in any crisis at a school, following a crisis response plan is paramount.

“It’s important to understand that a plan is not perfect and cannot foresee all possibilities,” he told.

“It is also important for stakeholders to meet often and discuss the current changes seen in school crisis situations and to adjust the current plan to respond to these changes.”

School administrators across the country are continuing to make plans to keep their students more safe.

“We just have to hope that the nightmare happening at so many schools will not be one that our community will ever have to experience,” Anderson concluded.

Minneota Supt. Dan Deitte

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