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Legislator calls for laminated glass for classrooms to protect students

When a student with a gun was able to enter classrooms at a Hastings middle school last month, he was able to do so by breaking the rectangular window next to each door, and reaching in to unlock the door.

Within days, those windows had been replaced. Hastings Middle School Principal Mark Zuzek recognized the need immediately and took the steps necessary to safeguard students. Thirty-five windows at the middle school were replaced at a cost of $2,100.

But it wasn't the first time a person with a gun was able to get into schoolrooms by breaking the glass next to the doors.

"Just like at Hastings, the gunman was able to break the windows at Red Lake to enter classrooms with regular glass," Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said.

Nine people were murdered in Red Lake in 2005 before the gunman turned the gun on himself. One of the teachers at the Red Lake School who witnessed the murders of five students and a fellow teacher came forward to encourage policymakers to consider using laminated glass following the attempted shooting at the Hastings Middle School. None of the media reports detailed how the gunman at Red Lake was able to get into classrooms, so school districts weren't alerted to the danger of the glass windows.

After the incident in Hastings, the Red Lake teacher, Missy Dodds, met with Sieben who has since proposed that a safety glass provision be included in the education bill.

"Perhaps some of the tragedy (in Red Lake and Hastings) could have been averted had laminated glass been used," Sieben said.

Schools that plan to construct new buildings must present their building proposals to the Department of Education for approval through a process called Review and Comment. Under Sieben's proposed legislation, districts would be required to report to the department that they have considered using laminated glass. This type of glass is stronger, less likely to shatter, and typically costs about the same amount as tempered glass that is generally used in schools today.

"This is not a mandate on our schools," Sieben said. "Instead, it's a way to let districts know that laminated glass is a good option that will help ensure student safety. Laminated glass does not shatter the way tempered glass does, making it more difficult to enter a classroom by breaking the glass. Given that the cost is comparable to tempered glass, this makes a lot of sense."

Though laminated glass is to be looked at for new buildings through the review process, the Hastings School District is looking at it for all of its buildings. Hastings School District Supt. Tim Collins said there is glass next to a majority, but not all, doors in the school district. Even the high school, built more recently and not "an older building," he said has tempered, not laminated, glass.

"We tried to immediately order and replace all of the glass in the doors or next to the doors at the middle school, as soon as possible," Supt. Collins said. "The project is still not finished at this point in time because the laminate glass is not immediately available, so we are waiting until that order comes in."

Sieben's new legislation will address new buildings. Individual school districts will need to address existing buildings.

"Using the improved technology of laminated glass is a cost-effective way to enhance school safety," Sieben said.