In the wake of the Sandy Hook School shootings, which took place on Dec. 14 in Newton, Conn., parents and patrons of the Pierce City School District have been contacting the school for reassurances on the district's plan to keep students safe.
"I can't count the number of phone calls and e-mails I have received concerning district security," said Dr. Aaron Cornman, superintendent of the R-6 District. "We're looking at several issues and are in the process of rectifying them."
Cornman also suggested that the board hire Immediate Response Group (IRG), a Republic agency dedicated to providing protection and security, as well as a diverse range of specialized protection, security solutions, risk mitigation and remediation services, to evaluate the school's weaknesses and strengths in providing student safety.
"We are looking at our emergency response plan," Cornman added. "We are also looking at limiting outside travel by students."
Cornman said he was not at liberty to reveal the district's active shooter plan, but since the Sandy Hook School tragedy teachers have had a heightened awareness of student concerns and safety.
"We need to make the grounds as safe as possible," said Kenny O'Hara, board member. "When it comes down to life and death, how will the staff protect themselves and students?"
"Lock down is not sufficient," Cornman said. "You would just be locking the shooter inside the building. When there is active terrorism inside the school, you have a unique issues during student evacuation."
Questions from board members also centered around the disturbed mind-set of an active shooter, the possibility of a teacher or staff member coming face-to-face with such an individual, and how the district would handle mass casualties.
"We need to train people what to do," Cornman said, "with trained professionals. In the end, the district gets trained staff. If someone comes in with a gun the staff would know how to respond."
Cost of the 30-day evaluation would be about $18 per student, or approximately $13,381.
"There would be two or three people onsite for a month to 45 days," Cornman said. "Staff and instructors would practice active shooter scenarios and practice the [protocols.]"
The scenarios would not involve student participation, due to the traumatizing nature of the subject material.
Board members discussed allowing teachers to be armed on the school campus.
"I have mixed emotions on that," O'Hara said.
It was suggested if word gets out that the district is arming teachers, it might serve as a deterrent.
"We need to have an action plan," said Michael Blinzler, board member. "We need to address our facility concerns in addition to the training sessions. We're moving pretty quick, but this is the most important decision we've made as a board."
"It's one question with 100 different answers," said O'Hara. "We need to know what our staff is comfortable doing. Every day, when your kids are in school, you pray to God nothing happens."
"We've changed since last week," said Steve Garner, principal. "We're always looking to be safer than we are."
Board members were in agreement that the school facility can't be a place where children are in fear.
"All districts need to be proactive, not reactive," Cornman said. "We need to know where we are and where we need to be. Kids sense this is a safe environment."
"We train our teachers for everything else," O'Hara said. "In a moment of panic, you have to have a plan and follow through."
Board members approved staff training provided by IRG and some facility upgrades to make the campuses more secure.