Minnesota Bill Aims at School Safety

Your child could see fewer fire drills and more emergency lockdowns at school if some state lawmakers have their way.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, and Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, announced Tuesday they will introduce a bill to require schools to have five lockdowns each year instead of one. Fire drills would then be reduced from nine a year to five. One annual tornado drill also would be required.

Tom Westerhaus, superintendent of Prior Lake-Savage School District, said the drills would help ensure safer learning environments.

"Students learn from repetition," said Westerhaus. "That's why it's valuable to have more of them."

The proposed legislation comes at a time when schools across the state are on guard because of threats and recent school shootings. Almost one year ago, a student at Red Lake High School in northern Minnesota went on a shooting spree, killing five classmates, a teacher and a security guard before fatally shooting himself.

Some schools already go above and beyond the proposed five lockdowns a year. Bloomington School District partners with the local police department to have nine emergency lockdowns each year in almost all of its school buildings.

Dan Murphy, homeland security director for Bloomington police, said the drills could be easy to do and have little effect on the children if done properly.

Lockdowns can occur for a variety of reasons, including if there is an intruder in or near the building or if someone has threatened to harm anyone at the school. Murphy said one Bloomington school went into lockdown when a visitor didn't check in at the security desk. Another school heard gunshots outside the building and did the same.

The proposed legislation also would create a task force that would come up with proposals to improve crisis management preparations and safety in schools. If the bill passes, the task force would report its finding to the Legislature next year.

Urdahl said schools need to be more prepared in the wake of Minnesota's two recent school shootings, last year's Red Lake tragedy and an earlier fatal shooting in Cold Spring.

"Sadly, sometimes our children's education takes them down risky paths we never could've imagined," Urdahl said. "Something needs to be done."

Knight Ridder content Copyright 2005 provided via The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.