School security

A security camera and buzzer system is shown at the main entrance to Sioux City's Bryant Elementary School in this February file photo. Schools across Iowa are working to improve their security plans in the wake of high-profile school shootings.

SIOUX CITY -- Metro Sioux City school administrators say they have detailed security plans in place that aim to prevent mass shootings like the one that killed 17 in Florida last week.

In the wake of the second deadliest shooting at a U.S. school, local administrators say they have no current plans to install metal detectors at entrances but are contemplating additional safety measures.

"Metal detectors have not been discussed. School resource officers have been," said Patricia Lansink, interim superintendent of the Diocese of Sioux City Catholic Schools, which oversees Bishop Heelan in Sioux City and 15 other Catholic school systems in Northwest Iowa.

School district officials said they are mindful of keeping security plans fresh to try to have the safest schools possible. The Catholic schools and Sioux City and South Sioux City public school districts hold training drills at least once a year to make sure students and staff know what to do in various crisis scenarios.

Of the two-plus drills per year at the South Sioux City district, some involve an active shooter situation, district spokesman Lance Swanson said.

"The students are part of our lockdown/lockout drills. In addition, we have conversations with our students about what to do in various situations and scenarios," Swanson said.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, on Thursday was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for fatally shooting students and adults with an assault-style rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Wednesday. Cruz, a former student expelled from the school, had exhibited erratic behavior, had made threats on social media sites, and police had been called to his home at least 36 times since 2010. 

Sioux City School District Superintendent Paul Gausman, who described the shooting as "an unspeakable tragedy," said the case demonstrates that not only school staff but also members of the public should report individuals who show signs of suffering or wanting to harm themselves or others.

Over the past 19 years, ever since high-profile school shootings in Columbine, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; and other U.S. cities, schools across the country, including in Siouxland, have increasingly ramped up security plans, adding cameras and call-in systems and often limiting access to one entrance.

"Our policy was created in 2013 after the Newtown tragedy," Lansink said. "School safety is always on the minds of our staff and administrators. School safety plans are living, breathing documents that are in a constant state of review and revision as needed, and are often reviewed annually by staff and administrators."

Some districts, like South Sioux City, require all teachers and high school students to wear photo ID on lanyards, so visitors can be more readily noticed.

A bill that moved a step ahead from a committee in the Iowa Senate on Thursday would require active shooter plans for all K-12 school buildings by 2019. An estimated three-fourths of Iowa school districts currently have such plans for their buildings.

Gausman said front-end measures designed by schools help prevent violent incidents.

"The district has provided programming and speakers at school to address this topic," Gausman said. "District employees are trained to watch for warning signs. In addition, the district uses a sophisticated social media tool that uses algorithms to monitor public social media posts for threatening and concerning words."

Each Sioux City public school building has cameras trained on each door, even those that can't be opened during the school day, as well as other cameras inside and outside the buildings. All doors are secured during the day, and entrance is obtained through contact by buzzer with the main office, where personnel via cameras can see the person wanting to get in. That is a method used in small and large schools throughout Siouxland.

A police officer, also known as a resource officer, also is stationed at each of the six Sioux City public high schools and middle schools.

In planning an appropriate response to possible danger, mock drills for various possible incidents take place during the year and some drills are planned in concert with the Sioux City Police Department, Sioux City Fire Rescue and Woodbury County Sheriff's Office. Each school also completes safety drills to help students prepare for potential crisis.

If a crisis scenario were to occur, Gausman said in a high-level threat, local law enforcement officials would lead the situation management.

Coverage of high-profile school shootings have shown distraught parents near schools awaiting word on whether their children were safe. Various ways might be used to contact parents, Swanson and Lansink said.

"Depending on the situation, we would probably use a multifaceted approach," Swanson said. "We can use our mass notification system to call, email and text. We would also rely on local media, social media and our website to get information or instructions to the public and parents."

Lansink said the Catholic Schools' mobile alert system would deliver information to parents.

On Thursday, South Dakota legislative leaders encouraged school districts to allow approved employees to carry guns after the Florida high school shooting.

South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd said the state's "school sentinel" program, passed in 2013, is a resource schools should use. It allows for arming of school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers, with the requirement that the sentinels be trained.

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