Working to keep students safe: Schools, law enforcement prep for shootings on campuses

Article Taken From: The Times-Standard
Written By: Lorna Rodriguez

studentsafetyAs school shootings continue to occur nationwide, Humboldt County educators and law enforcement agencies are taking steps to prepare even though an incident hasn't happened within the county.
Eureka City Schools has begun implementing random lockdowns as a result, Superintendent Fred Van Vleck said.

The director of student services will go to a school, make up a scenario and walk into the principal's office to announce it. Regardless of whether the principal is present, a campus lockdown is called.

”That's all about sharpening and honing our staff and students' skills on how to properly lock down a campus,” Van Vleck said.

In the past couple of years, the district also has changed how it handles lockdowns.

”Go back 10 years ago, a lockdown was just that -- a lockdown,” Van Vleck said. “Now it's modified to sometimes for instance, if we have a lockdown when students are off campus, those students don't come back to the campus. They get away from the situation if at all possible.”

On Tuesday, two students were shot at a middle school in Roswell, N.M., after a 12 year-old boy opened fire, and in December, a 17-year-old senior was fatally shot in Centennial, Colo., before the 18-year-old student killed himself.

These incidents are two among a mounting toll of school shootings, the most recently infamous of which is December 2012's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where Adam Lanza killed 28 people -- including 20 children -- in Newtown, Conn.

”Every time we have an incident that happens within the country, the county or the school, it gives Eureka a learning opportunity to help improve school safety,” Van Vleck said. “We're always learning. We're always going to get better. The more we practice, the more we learn from situations that have happened around the country.”

At McKinleyville Union School District, officials review a plan with staff on a monthly basis, conduct drills and have a command center set up.

”As much as it's possible, we try to prepare for the worst,” Superintendent Michael Davies-Hughes said. “We really improved security at school sites as a result of a bond measure approved three years ago.”

Campuses can be locked, and all schools are closed, meaning anyone walking onto school grounds has to check in at the office.

”That's really enabled us to keep the students safe,” Davies-Hughes said. “It's certainly something that's in the forefront of people's minds. Students can't learn unless they feel safe.”

In the Northern Humboldt Union High School District, it starts with counseling. There is a crisis counselor at each of the high school campuses.

”Our goal is to not have a student in a situation where they feel they need to act out in the manner of school shootings,” Superintendent Chris Hartley said. “We try and create an environment that's emotionally safe for kids to try and prevent school shootings.”

At Arcata and McKinleyville high schools, a safety day is hosted at the beginning of the year. Emergency responders come in and talk about everything from harassment and bullying to peer pressures.

”All of the emotional and physical situations that students have to deal with in a school climate,” Hartley said. “It's a proactive measure.”

Districts also partner with local law enforcement. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol are two local agencies that work to prepare for a shooting just in case.

”They make a big difference because the officers learn to communicate with each other, they learn to work with the staff of the schools, ... they learn protocols,” Sheriff's Lt. Steve Knight said.

He said the turning point for law enforcement was the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

”At that point, law enforcement learned a lot at the Columbine shooting, and training started shortly after that,” Knight said.

The training consists of room clearing techniques, team formations, roles and tactics, the role of a first responder and a history of active shooter incidents, CHP Officer Matt Harvey said.

Last January, an inter-agency two-day drill was held at Jacob's Campus in Eureka to stimulate an actual school shooting. The exercise was hosted by the Northern Division of the CHP, and funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

”It was in a live, very real setting,” Harvey said. “What we might expect when we go into an actual live fire situation.

”The reality is, in any city or Humboldt County, the first law enforcement on scene could be any agency depending on the time of day, where it's at,” Harvey added.

The joint training will continue on an ongoing basis.

”It's the type of training and the type of awareness that we don't see as going away any time in the foreseeable future,” Harvey said. “It's a new part of the realities of the communities and the jobs that we take on in law enforcement. This is something that's developed in recent years that's another part of the job that we have to accept.”

These shootings can happen anywhere, Knight noted.

”That's probably the most concerning part of this,” Knight said. “It happens in some of the remote areas and it happens in the big cities. No one's immune from this, unfortunately.”

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.

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