Columbia Public Schools have safety procedures in place for emergencies and crises

Friday, December 14, 2012 | 2:29 p.m. CST; updated 5:36 p.m. CST, Friday, December 14, 2012

*UPDATE 4:09 p.m.: The number of children killed in the shooting has been updated from 18 earlier.

COLUMBIA — Staff at Columbia Public Schools said Friday that students engage in emergency drills on a regular basis to contend with incidents like the one that killed 27 people — including 20 children — in Newtown, Conn.

Elaine Hassemer, the principal at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, said students and faculty practice responses to this type of event often. 

“Besides academic achievement, safety is our number one priority,” Hessemer said, as parents filled the front entrance of the elementary school for a holiday open house. “You send your children to school, and you expect them to be safe.”

Tabetha Rawlings, the principal of Mill Creek Elementary School, said the school ensures safety by requiring visitors to enter through the front entrance and by monitoring the school closely with security cameras. All visitors must go directly to the office after entering the school, she said.

She said surveillance cameras were helpful in monitoring anyone around the school. “You get to know the familiar faces,” Rawlings said.

Leaders at both elementary schools did not tell students about the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. 

Rawlings said they would let parents discuss the incident with their children. 

On Monday, Rawlings will address students and faculty regarding the shooting, she said. 

Principals at all Columbia Public Schools were prepared to answer questions about what information regarding the shooting in Connecticut has been shared with children, said Michelle Baumstark, communications coordinator for district.

In addition, the district is prepared to offer help from guidance counselors to any staff or student who needs it.

Like most school districts, Columbia Pubic Schools has emergency strategies in place to handle situations like the incident that killed 27 people, including 20* children, in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school Friday morning.

"We are very proactive in safety and security," said Baumstark.

All schools in the district practice lockdown drills regularly, and all staff and faculty have had active shooter training. These are done as joint trainings with law enforcement.

According to the district's Student Handbook:

"Fire, weather, earthquake, and building emergency drills will be held periodically during the year. When these alarms are sounded, it is important for students to cooperate and to react quickly and calmly to directions. Instructors will explain the procedure for drills the first week of school. Evacuation procedures are posted in each classroom."

The handbook also refers to a management plan that will be activated in an emergency or crisis:

"The Emergency/Crisis Team will be responsible for directing all activities during the emergency/crisis situation. Students will receive training in the proper procedures to follow during an emergency. It is very important that students and their families cooperate and follow the directions of the Emergency/Crisis Team."

The school district also is in the beginning stages of implementing the ALiCE active shooter training for students. ALiCE — Alert, Lockdown, inform, Counter, Evacuate — describes different levels of threat assessment and encourages people facing extreme danger to be proactive in their survival. 

"There is always an opportunity to re-evaluate and think about how procedures would work in certain situations," Baumstark said. "We are constantly evaluating our crisis plan."

In addition, the district has a good partnership with the Boone County Sheriff's department, Boone County Fire Protection District and the Columbia Police Department, Baumstark said. All are knowledgeable about emergency procedure within CPS.

"We all are watching what happened and thinking, do I have that in place?" she said. "It gets your mind thinking about it and how you would handle it."

All schools have a school resource officer, law enforcement officials who are assigned to elementary, middle and high schools. Two former police officers work as safety and security officers for the district, Baumstark said, and they are responsible for implementing safety and security procedures for the district. 

She would not comment on procedure specifics, citing concern of potentially jeopardizing safety plans, but said they try to cover all situations.

"You try to plan for everything, for every scenario," she said. "But until a plan is actually implemented, it is hard to know if it works."

In the event of a dangerous situation, the school district has a  communication alert plan to phone, email and text simultaneously to let the parents and the public know what is going on as it happens. 

There are also planned "staging areas" where students would be moved so they can be reunited with their parents in the event the building had to be cleared or evacuated.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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