WHEATLAND — The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has the entire country asking questions about gun laws and school safety. But what is being done here to protect our students should the unthinkable happen?
Along with the tornado and fire drills, Platte County School District No. 1 practices drills about what to do should an intruder bent on destruction enter the buildings. The Standard Response Protocol that is practiced in these drills was created by the I Love You Guys Foundation. The foundation was started by John Keyes when his daughter Emily Keyes was killed in a school shooting Sept. 27, 2006, in Bailey, Colorado. “I love you guys” was the last text he received from his daughter.
SRP has four different parts: Lockout, Lockdown, Evacuate and Shelter. If there is a threat outside the school, students and teachers are brought inside the school and the doors are locked. Lockdown is called when there is a threat inside the school. Students are directed to hide and stay quiet, teachers are to lock the classroom doors, turn the lights out and move out of sight. Evacuate is used to move students and teachers to a safe, off-campus location. They are directed to walk in a single file line, but to be vigilant and ready for different instructions. Shelter is used in case of tornados to move people to a shelter area.
PCSD#1 is also working on labeling all the windows from the outside so classrooms will be immediately identifiable from the outside. They are also updating the public address system with help from a grant they received from the state.
“Sound is vital to getting the word out and keeping everything uniform if something should happen,” Superintendent Dennis Fischer explained.
Installing cameras in as many places as feasible is another safety measure being done, paid for by some security grants from the state. They are constantly updating floor plans and keeping them current so they may be turned over to emergency personnel to be able to pinpoint where they’re going.
They have been following the practices of Cody schools as well. Cody is the only school district in the state that is encouraging educators to be armed after legislation was passed last year permitting school employees to have guns in school.
“Whether arming ourselves (as educators) is something that works out well, or are we going to ask for more trouble with accidental shootings?” asked Fischer. “Coming from a law enforcement family, seeing the amount of training my father went through to just even to decide whether to pull a gun and what else they could do to handle situations is tremendous. I think any law enforcement person would tell you that that’s really the art of carrying a gun is learning when to pull it out of the holster.”
“It could happen anywhere — where there’s people, there are going to be problems with people,” said senior Joey Madsen. “We have teachers who are trained to use guns, so why aren’t they trusted to have guns?”
In recent months the guidelines of SRP have come under fire as being the exact thing not to do in order to have the best chances of surviving a school shooter. At Columbine, the library where students were hiding had a door to the outside and they asked the teacher when they heard the shots if they could just leave. The teacher wouldn’t let them — she made them stay and hide under the tables. The shooters came in, killed 10 classmates and wounded at least nine others.
According to Fischer, one of the struggles of Wheatland High School is all the separate buildings and entrances. PCSD#1 is pushing the state to enclose the high school campus. The overall goal is to create a centralized building so the school can control the entrances better. The challenge is that is more control over entrances means more difficulty evacuating.
“There has been so much new research since Keyes came to talk (to us), they were very much for a lockdown then,” Fischer explained. “Now the latest things we are hearing are: lockdown, but evacuate.” He went on to say they are working on expanding the procedures. “Now the experts are saying that if they can’t evacuate and escape, if that door comes open — you are attacking that shooter.”
It’s not enough to just lock the door, but also to put things in front of the door to block it. During the Virginia Tech school shooting, student Zachary Petkewicz shoved a table against the door of the classroom and held it shut. The shooter was able to get the door open a few inches, but that’s all. He fired shots into the door, but they just splintered wood and did not hit anyone else. Everyone in the classroom was unharmed.
Fischer emphasized the importance of educators making connections with students, efforts that will hopefully keep someone from feeling they have no one to talk to and feeling forced into acting out aggressively. Mental health problems are the prevailing common denominator in school shootings. Studies have shown that these shooters aren’t acting on a whim; the attacks are planned out and coordinated over a long period of time. Perhaps preemptive actions are the only way to reach these troubled youths before they turn to violence.