- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - One year after a Harrisburg High School student put a bullet in the arm of his principal, staff training, safety drills and equipment upgrades have made metro area schools more secure.

The non-fatal school shooting on Sept. 30, 2015, didn’t cause knee-jerk security changes, but nearly every school in the area has seen safety upgrades in the last year, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2elNp6G ) reported.

“It’s rare that a school reacts to an event anymore,” Sioux Falls Superintendent Brian Maher said. “More than anything else, (Harrisburg) reminded us that this can happen here.”

Protecting students from violence and gunfire has been on schools’ radars since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, but the Harrisburg shooting brought those concerns home.

West Central, Brandon Valley, Tri-Valley and Harrisburg have all added surveillance cameras to their school buildings. Dell Rapids and Brandon Valley upgraded security on their main school entrances.

Sioux Falls schools hired additional personnel to monitor students on the playground before school starts in the morning, and Brandon Valley added another school resource officer.

Tri-Valley also implemented panic buttons and a school sentinel program, allowing trained employees to carry firearms to protect students in the event of a school shooting or other crisis situation.

“Any drill that we’ve done since that time, we’ve all taken very seriously,” said Mark Schlekeway, safety committee facilitator and assistant principal for Brandon Valley High School.

Schools have also taken time to reflect on their policies and procedures. Harrisburg administrators led multiple workshops sharing the lessons they learned in the aftermath of the shooting, in which Principal Kevin Lein was shot by a 16-year-old student, Mason Buhl, who was awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge.

“By far, we don’t have all the answers … but we did learn some things,” Harrisburg Superintendent Jim Holbeck said. “And we thought they were worth sharing.”

The infrastructure upgrades and lessons from Harrisburg are only part of the equation when it comes to keeping kids safe. Schools also have to create a welcoming environment, administrators said.

“We run schools, not prisons,” said West Central Superintendent Jeff Danielsen. “We want the schools to be inviting to the students.”

Bob Draeger, a school resource officer at Lincoln High School, views student relationships as an essential part of his job.

“It’s amazing,” Draeger said. “Just saying hello to a kid in the morning when they’re in the school, I might be the only person to say hello to them all day long.”

School resource officers help keep students safe through simply being present in the buildings, Brandon Valley Superintendent Jarod Larson said.

“We run schools, not prisons. We want the schools to be inviting to the students.”

Jeff Danielsen, superintendent, West Central Schools

Larson gave the example of cars speeding on a city street. When there’s a police vehicle on the side of the road, drivers are more likely to slow down solely because they see the police car.

With students, the resource officers’ presence prevents the minor thefts and fights that may otherwise break out, Draeger said.

Schools are also working to make sure students who struggle with mental health or feel like they’re in crisis have an outlet to help them cope, Danielsen said.

“It’s the relationships with the kids that are going to matter,” Schlekeway said.

When it comes to responding to a crisis, schools are more prepared now than they ever have been, Holbeck said.

That doesn’t mean an incident like the Harrisburg shooting could never happen again.

“The thing that people want the most … they want me or any other school leader to give them 100 percent guaranteed assurance nothing can happen in their school, and we can’t do it,” Holbeck said. “If we were to check everybody at the door … there’s no 100 percent guarantee.”


Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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