HJ - School Safety Learning Experience

Clarinda school students study in a classroom. A combination of severe weather and upset parents Oct. 1 and the district’s processes for informing parents of weather-related incidents, made school officials review their strategies. Clarinda uses phrases to categorize the type of incident involving the school. (photo courtesy of Clarinda School District)

A miscommunication involving severe weather warnings and upset parents at the same time Tuesday, Oct. 1, made Clarinda school officials evaluate its safety procedures.

The incident was explained during the district’s standard response protocol meeting held at noon, Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the Garrison House. The meetings were already scheduled before tornado weather passed through Page County near the time school was let out for the day.

“We still had students and an aggravated parent called,” said Sara Honnold, the district’s at-risk coordinator. “Our lock out at the high school got twisted as a lock down.”

Honnold and other school officials held three meetings throughout Oct. 1 to inform the public about the school’s student-safety procedures and strategy.

Honnold defined lock out as when a threatening incident is occurring outside school buildings and students are sent to safe places within the building. A lock down is when a threat is inside the school building.

During a lock out, no one is allowed to leave or enter the building. Honnold and other school officials said a parent attempted to pick up their child from the school, but was denied because of the lock out.

Clarinda Police Department informed the Herald-Journal Oct. 2 some upset parents attempted to pick up their children, but threats requiring police action were not made.

At about 2:45 p.m., Oct. 1 the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for Page County until 10 p.m. Clarinda High School releases students at 3:06 p.m.

At about 3:15 p.m., tornadoes were spotted near Shenandoah and other severe weather was in the county. All Clarinda students were not allowed to leave for the day and sent to safe rooms in each of the buildings. Students were dismissed at about 4:10 p.m. after the storms passed.

Before the rough weather arrived, a fire alarm was erroneously activated at Clarinda Middle School.

“It was a learning experience,” Honnold said about the entire afternoon.

Interim Superintendent Chris Bergman told the audience plans were made to inform parents of the weather and student safety through a progressive series of emails, but malfunctions in the system prevented many of the messages from being sent.

“Not every notification was sent,” Bergman said.

Bergman said school officials met the morning of Oct. 2 to review the day and what changes could be made to improve communication and efficiency.

Audience members questioned school officials about certain students on Oct. 1. A number of Clarinda High School students have times when they are not required to be in school or are taking classes at Iowa Western Community College’s Clarinda campus.

Concerns were how to notify those students not to return to school during a time when the school is threatened. Students can receive the district’s text messages through a cell phone that explain warnings.

Honnold said Clarinda schools are basing their student-safety procedures and strategies off of I Love U Guys Foundation. Emily Keyes was a high school student Sept. 27, 2006, at Bailey, Colorado, and was one of six female students kept hostage in the school. She was eventually shot and killed by the suspect after law enforcement forced its way into the school. She was the only student to die.

The last contact with her parents was a text stating “I love you guys.”

Three years later, her parents, Ellen and John-Michael Keyes, created the foundation to create strategy and training for school safety.

A video has been shown for elementary and middle school students defining the different situations for student safety and explaining the procedures.

Other categories include evacuation, like for a fire or natural-gas leak that would send students off campus to another location. Shelter is intended for natural events like earthquakes or tsunamis for schools near oceans. Hold is when students remain in a classroom and to clear all hallways, but there is no threat.

Clarinda schools are planning drills for each category.

School officials noted they are still working on appropriate places off campus for students to meet, and possibly be picked up by parents or guardians. For example, First United Methodist Church would be ideal because of its size and proximity to the high school. School officials said the First Baptist and Hillside Missionary churches would be locations for the elementary and middle school. Those were only named as examples, not policy.

“We need to add safe places near the schools,” said middle school guidance counselor Heidi Bird.

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