Minnesota Schools Examine Security following Monday's Rampage

March 23, 2005
School administrators question what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Monday's school shooting

School administrators across the Twin Cities took a fresh look Tuesday at their school safety plans after the deadly shootings in Red Lake, but most said the tragedies at Columbine, Rocori and other schools in recent years already had prepared them for dealing with emergencies.

"We're close to doing the most that we can," said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "You could buy 100 more security cameras and arm security guards at schools, but the reality is you can't prevent what happened in Red Lake."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty echoed that view at a news conference Tuesday, saying that society needs to do all it can to prevent such situations. "But it looks here like you had a very disturbed individual who was able to overcome a lot of precautions to do a lot of damage," he said.

St. Paul schools Superintendent Pat Harvey sent a letter to principals Tuesday afternoon summarizing the district's safety efforts and encouraging them to look for opportunities to "make our young people aware of the alienating effects of bullying and similar behaviors."

"The most effective deterrent to a catastrophic event such as we witnessed yesterday is to create an environment in which kids feel safe talking to adults," the letter said.

Students at Central High School in St. Paul are scheduled to watch a film on anger management this morning, said principal Mary Mackbee. The film was made a few years ago with Central students in collaboration with the Hazelden alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, and it will be used to spark a discussion about how to control anger.

At Humboldt Senior High School in St. Paul, administrators have scheduled a lockdown drill for today in response to the shootings at Red Lake Senior High, and students will get the chance to question teachers about the school's procedures.

Armed police officers are stationed at each of the seven high schools in St. Paul, and five more are shared by the eight middle and junior high schools. In addition, the district employs private, unarmed security guards who work afternoons and evenings at the schools.

St. Paul has the third-highest American Indian student population almost 800 in the state. Students were given excused absences if they wanted to attend Tuesday's Capitol memorial service for the Red Lake victims.

A similar ceremony was organized Tuesday at St. Paul's Harding High School for the American Indian students there, some of whom have cousins who witnessed the shootings in Red Lake, said principal Deb Henton.

Harding has more American Indian students than any other district high school about 60.

Schools are required to have crisis management plans, and most hold regular drills to stay sharp. Within the past month, for instance, a lock-down drill at Centennial High School in Circle Pines sent 2,200 students and 175 staff to their classrooms and offices. This fall, South Washington County staged a districtwide drill, which included a simulated shooting at Woodbury High School.

Mark Wolak, superintendent of Mahtomedi Area Schools, said the Red Lake shootings have caused him to think more about the diminishing number of guidance counselors available.

Minnesota's ratio of counselors to students was one to 806 during the 2001-02 school year about three times the recommended one-to-250 ratio and the second highest in the nation.

"It raises in my mind the importance of school districts having student support services that address the needs of students beyond academics," Wolak said, citing mental health issues and bullying problems. "As we cut programs and services in schools, these are often the services that get cut first.

"They need people to talk to," he said. "They need a caring adult who follows up when they hear a student is talking like this."