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District 833 continues to refine school safety plan

Superintendent responds to parent’s opinion about recent improvements

Amid concerns raised by the writer of a Viewpoint on the Woodbury Bulletin opinion page earlier this month, School District 833 officials last week defended their position on improvements to safety and security measures at local schools.

On Thursday, Oct. 22, Superintendent Keith Jacobus and board members Ron Kath and Michelle Witte, candidates for re-election, addressed Steve Swensen’s Oct. 14 piece titled “Schools — state of insecurity?”

“Community members may have read an editorial opinion letter last week, and in speaking individually with you as board members I thought it would be important to clarify a few points and open a discussion with you focused on our efforts to keep our students safe as they focus on their efforts on learning,” said Superintendent Keith Jacobus, reading a statement during the board meeting. 

Jacobus detailed the emergency preparedness and safety coordinator Dave Moredock’s 17 years of experience and touted his leadership of the district’s safety and security effort.

“It’s important to understand Dave’s qualifications, which I think you would agree are beyond reproach,” Jacobus said, “in order to fully understand we do have an expert in our system who is guiding our emergency plans and our procedures. 

“We also are proud of our relationships we have with our law enforcement agencies in each of our local cities. These law enforcement professionals work with us on a regular basis to help develop our emergency plans and to help refine our processes, our responses to potential to crisis situations. They are active partners with  us and supportive of what we are doing in the area of safety management. 

Swensen had written that it has been a year since a committee focused on safety and security met, but Jacobus clarified: “For a number of years we had, and continue to have, an active district emergency and security readiness team that meets on a regular basis. The last meeting was held earlier this month, and the next meeting will be in December.” 

Swensen had questioned whether each schools’ safety plan was complete, to which Jacobus responded: “We revised our safety plans in 2014, we reviewed them again for possible changes in 2015, and will again undertake a comprehensive look at them prior to start of the 2016 school year. The plans are revised based on new recommendations and what has been learned from incidents across the country. 

“Also in the spring of 2014, an outside independent auditor conducted a vulnerability assessment of our school district. The assessment utilized the Minnesota School Safety Center’s Safe School Assessment. The Minnesota School Safety Center is a division of the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office. 

“The findings in the audit helped us to update our plans in 2014.

“We have a comprehensive plan that is scrutinized by Mr. Moredock and our local law enforcement officials and we feel more than confident that we have qualified experts guiding our work.”

Kath, the school board chairman, added: “We will continue to refine that safety plan as we go forward.”

Jacobus spoke about three of the security enhancements Swensen also touted. 

“I want to address the safety improvements we implemented due to the support of our community provided us through the 2013 levy election,” Jacobus said. “We have completed entryway construction at three of our six elementary schools scheduled for improvements, we have updated our camera systems, we have changed out our door locks on our classrooms, and we have hardened the glass in our school entryways.” 

Swensen had criticized the safety glass chosen by the district. 

Jacobus explained the district’s decision, saying: “The glass that we installed is safety glass and is designed to slow an intruder and give the school time to lock down. The glass is not what Sandy Hook had in place, as was described in the community piece. We did not seek to add bulletproof or more resistant glass because the cost would’ve been too prohibitive based on the added elements of security coming with that type of glass.

Kath said he is impressed with local law enforcement and the district’s new lockbox system. In the past, during an emergency, officers would’ve had to enter through the front doors. 

“Now everyone of our exits has a lockbox where there’s keys available,” Kath said. “So that when they get into our schools, hey have a box where they have keys to every one of our classrooms. They’ve never had that before. 

“So that’s just one of the small things that we’ve done. 

“And that’s what we go into these drills and stuff that are activated and worked upon.”

Witte said she appreciated Jacobus providing clarification and accurate information. 

Moredock was present to answer any questions, but spoke little.

Swensen had also written that the district: did not account for differences between elementary, middle and high schools; failed to incorporate policies and procedures for students with special needs; spent security-related money from the 2013 referendum on aesthetic enhancements; didn’t give “adequate direction and guidance to ensure consistency and continuity throughout the district.”

Jacobus said: “We take precautions for kids with special needs. If a student does need extra assistance during a crisis we provide that assistance to them. Not every student with special needs would require assistance in an event of an emergency. 

“Our plans are tailored for individual schools based on their floor plan, the student ages, and the threats associated with layout of the school. 

“We can never plan for every element of threat and risk posed by people who are intent on doing harm to others, but we are doing everything possible to provide a safe environment that remains conducive to learning.”