MFL MarMac board reviews school’s safety procedures, ongoing efforts

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The MFL MarMac School Board reviewed the district’s safety procedures at its June 13 meeting. Although this is done annually, the timing was especially poignant given the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month.


“Obviously, that’s going to be hyped up at this time,” said superintendent Dale Crozier.


According to Crozier, the safety plan, which is outlined on the school website, addresses student and staff safety in the event of not just intruders but also fires and tornados. Information on threats, lockdowns, evacuations, awareness and communication is listed too.


A confidential manual also outlines situations and protocol, he added.


MFL MarMac has worked to shore up its entrances in recent years, a point board member Collin Stubbs brought up.


“I know there were 51 exterior doors, at one point, to this building [in Monona]. We took great steps to secure that, but what other opportunities do we have?” he asked. “This is a broad discussion for the board, around physical security. If we’re going to do it, do it right. Whatever else needs to be done.”


Crozier said there’s even heightened awareness this summer, a time when doors were sometimes left unlocked or propped open.


“A couple weeks ago, we decided to lock the doors as much as we can in the summer. We’re on red alert right now. You wouldn’t think anything would happen in the summer, but we’ve got our basketball camps and volleyball. There are doors that are going to get propped open,” he stated. “We can’t not live, but on the other hand we need to be smart at the same time.”


Efforts are also ongoing to upgrade interior doors. For example, McGregor Center Principal Denise Mueller said a recent project there included new locks for 11 doors in the upper elementary wing (fourth and fifth grade), the lunchroom, a closet and the office. The cost was around $5,000.


The doors now have a push button lock so teachers can push the button from inside to lock it. That differs from doors done previously in the upstairs of the middle school, which are a keyed system.


“If you’re under a stressful situation, you don’t have to insert a key at all. That, to me, is huge,” Mueller said. “I know you worry about getting locked out of your room, but you’d carry your fob, ID and key on a lanyard. I would rather be locked out of my room than in a dangerous situation.”


Being locked out is admittedly more of a possibility at the elementary, but principal Kathy Koether said the risk would be worth it.


“Every once in awhile, maybe someone will lock the door, but we can usually deal with that. We’ve even talked about putting a mechanism on the top of the door, so it won’t open. That’s pretty easy to slip on,” she said.


Koether said glass doors at the elementary are also a concern. They’ve withstood kicks over the years, but would be no match for a bullet.


Mueller agreed. “We have glass doors at the front [of the middle school], then a second set of glass doors. Should we shut those? But they’re all glass, so is that going to buy us, what, another second?”


This fall, Mueller said staff will talk about shooter safety and what to do in those situations. Preparation once included an acting scenario, but she wasn’t sure how helpful that was. 


“When it’s really happening to you, how do you know how you’re going to respond? Some of our staff got really worked up when that happened. Some people joke about it, and some don’t take it seriously,” she said.


For now, efforts will focus on tabletop discussions and informing kids about where they are in the building and what to do in different scenarios. 


“We’re going to have an evacuation drill—we have not done that for two years now because of COVID. We go to different evacuation areas. We also have four fire drills and two tornado drills a year,” Mueller explained. “There’s a safety bag in every classroom that has a bandana and pencil for making tourniquets, bandages and class lists and flashlights. It’s a kit with necessities in case of emergencies.”


“Staff take those things no matter what, a tornado drill or fire drill, whenever they leave the room,” said Koether, who noted the elementary’s main focus is a meeting place, where people would gather upon evacuating the building. 


The school has also continued to evaluate what to do in the case of an intruder. According to Koether, the old strategy in intruder safety was that, if a gunman came in, people should throw items at the person to distract them. 


“But with automatic weapons, there’s no way. That’s absolutely the last thing. So we have to look back at some of those precautions,” she said.


The previous focus on ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) has shifted, Mueller added.


“ALICE was where you would barricade and hide. Now, that’s not what they tell you to do. It’s get out whenever you can, and the person in charge, if able, is supposed to let you know where that person is. I would say they’re in this room, on that side of the building, so you know you can get out,” she shared.


In an emergency situation, kids are encouraged to help with triage if they are able, said Mueller. That’s why tourniquets and other items are included in the classroom kits.


“Some kids will rise to that, and you don’t know what adults will even do,” she said.


Middle school paraprofessional Nancy Moses, who was also at last week’s meeting, said the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office previously empowered school staff to do all they can until law enforcement can arrive.


“Clayton County is so big, it could be 20 minutes from the time we’d call them before they could get there,” she stated. “They more or less said it’s up to the staff to take care of the kids.”


Board members felt updated discussions with law enforcement, both local and county, would be important.


“I’m sure there are some standards in place, or protocols in place, that say ‘this is what you’re supposed to do. This is what the experts tell us we should do in the event that would happen,’” Stubbs said.


“Part of the problem with the last shooting was that it didn’t matter how fast they got there. They didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” continued board member Joshua Grau. “If they don’t execute in a split second, you’ve got a serious problem. So what are they trained to do?”


Grau also stressed the importance of awareness, citing a statistic that 80 percent of younger shooters have often told someone or posted to social media before committing an act.


“Communication and good relationships in your communities, which we do have, is a big part—seeing a problem before it evolves into more,” he said.


According to high school counselor Abbey Cottrell, students are already being proactive.


“This year, I can think of quite a few kids who came to me and said, ‘I have a concern about this student or that student.’ Say something, do something, and our kids are. They are being advocates for one another,” she said. “Even if you follow up and it’s not much of anything, at least you did your due diligence. The more they can hear, ‘I appreciate you letting us know,’ the better.” 


Other agenda items addressed at the meeting included:

•The board approved contracts for Dale Hanson (middle school teacher), Eric Koenig (high school boys track), David DeMaio (custodial) and Marcy Klein (middle school cross country) and accepted the resignations of Matt Steven (middle school student liaison) and Kyle Kirkestue (high school boys track).


•Crozier informed the board the crow’s nest/press box has been repaired, buying time until a new structure can be built in a couple years. The building was originally built in 1999 by the school shop teacher. “I think it’s safe for use this fall,” Crozier said.


•School marketing committee members Cottrell and Cheri Moser updated the board. Efforts have included continued livestream event coverage and social media interaction, creating videos and graphics for screens within the school, streamlining pages on the Canvas learning management system and adding new safety signs and updating maps inside the schools. Upcoming plans include posting alumni spotlights on social media, working on installation of a TouchPro system with school historical information in the high school lobby (that can also be accessed online) and overseeing branded door and window wraps to school buildings. 

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