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Robust student safety plan a priority for Havasu schools

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida, Lake Havasu Unified School District officials believe its “robust” safety plan gives students the best chance at being protected while at school.

The shooting which left 17 dead, dozens wounded and five with life-threatening injuries, brought home just how important it is to talk about safety, train for an active-shooter on campus and encourage students to report threats.

“Can you be 100 percent prepared,” said Superintendent Diana Asseier. “I don’t think you are ever 100 percent prepared for something like this because each situation is unique, but in the era of school shootings we are much more aware.”

As part of its ongoing safety initiatives, the district conducted a major review, at the beginning of the school year, on procedures if there is a threat on campus.

As part of its safety plan the school district schedules hard lockdown drills quarterly, with the high school going one step further this year, practicing a fire drill and hard lockdown on the first day of school.

“It’s a difficult question to the answer, when is it safe and when is it not,” Asseier said. “Even though nobody ever anticipates something like this happening, we need to be prepared to minimize possible threats to our students, and for them to participate thoughtfully in the age that we live in.”

One advantage Havasu has in helping keep its high school safe is that participation.

“Students have been very good about telling us what is posted on Facebook or when they hear things they feel might be a threat. They let us know, so we can respond,” Asseier said. “We take these (potential threats) very seriously and investigate everything that is referred to us.”

The Lake Havasu City Police Department also is on the frontline of school safety.

Along with conducting annual active shooter scenarios on district campuses, officers are assigned full time at Thunderbolt Middle School as well Lake Havasu High School.

Student protection is a top priority for the department, said Police Chief Dan Doyle.

“The police department works closely with school district staff as well as our charter schools to ensure we have safe schools and safety protocols,” Doyle said. “My two sons attend (school in Havasu) and as a parent I am confident … that we are taking every measure to ensure student safety.”

Perhaps the best line of defense in protecting against a school shooting are the district’s parents, said school psychologist Doug Pehling.

“Parents, keep your ears open and your eyes open,” Pehling said. “Watch your child’s social media accounts. Look for any changes in behavior, maybe withdrawing from friends or family. Are they having outbursts of anger, or do they have a preoccupation with death or weapons.”

Parents need to be vigilant, Pehling warned.

Even though Wednesday’s shooting was more than 2,000 miles away, it can have a ripple effect on students here.

“I think something like this increases everyone’s anxiety,” Pehling said. “You think you are safe at school, you think you are safe at church, you think you are safe at the movie theater and kids today are unfortunately finding out they are not. It kind of shakes us to our core.”

Then, there are students on the edge that are considering violence at school who are watching this event play out.. The increase in attention raises the potential for a copycat killer taking action, Pehling said.

It is the chance of a student taking similar actions to trigger a fire alarm and flush students from their classrooms, as the shooter did at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that has LHUSD looking at its fire drill protocol.

“One of the things parents need to realize is that when things happen like this we look back at what are our protocols, so that we can make any needed adjustments moving forward,” said Lake Havasu High School Principal Scott Becker. “I received a phone call right away this morning from the district office on what we do during fire drills. Right now we are looking at things to see if we have to make changes.”

District officials realize they can never guard against the unknown, but if a student in Havasu makes a threat, an assessment is conducted to determine the level of the threat.

“Is it realistic?” Pehling said. “Do they have a plan? Is it thought out? Do they have the means to carry it out? Do they have access to a weapon? The process can involve teachers, witnesses and parents. The assessment is very thorough.”

 

(by David Louis, Today's News Herald - Feb 16, 2018)

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