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Barnes County school administrators react to Friday school shootings

December 17, 2012

School Board President Mike Callahan said Friday the school district has safeguards in place to protect students, staff and teachers from tragedies such as Friday's fatal school shooting in Connecticut.
A man opened fire Friday inside two classrooms at a Connecticut elementary school killing 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in corners and closets and trembled helplessly to the sound of gunfire reverberating through the building.
The killer, armed with two handguns, committed suicide at the school and another person was found dead at a second scene, bringing the toll to 28, authorities said.
Said Callahan, “I think we have all our safeguards in place, and policies and procedures to handle it, but when you think of all the shootings, there is no ultimate answer. If anyone has an ultimate answer, we would like to hear from them.” Callahan said school doors are locked over the noon hour and during the day, and visitors to the school must check in at the high school office, and be okayed by the person they want to visit.
“We have to educate teachers and staff” about making schools as safe as possible.
Callahan said there are some things that could make things safer that just can't be done. For example, he said, in the fatal movie theater shooting about a year ago, “you can't just lock the fire exit door,” meaning someone who does not have a weapon could put a wedge in the door allowing accomplices with guns to enter.
“We have a response system within the school,” but “it's like the hackers – they'll find a way.”
On Friday, police shed no light on the motive for the attack.
Valley City School Superintendent Dean Koppelman told parents in a letter Saturday, "I am certain all of us are feeling a deep sense of sadness with the tragic loss of 20 elementary age children and a number of staff members in the school. I know my heart just sank when I became aware of this news.
"I would like to remind you and reassure you that the safety of all of our children is a top priority for our school officials. I do believe that our schools and schools across our country are still one of the safest places for children to be. We have a safety plan in place at each of our buildings that would help us to deal with such a situation if it were to occur. These safety plans are reviewed and revised if needed on a regular basis. Our Building Principals and I had recently met with our new Chief of Police and one of the items we discussed was our safety plans and working together with our law enforcement to review the plans we have for each building and look at training for our law enforcement in each of our buildings.
"We have great teachers, administrators, school counselors, and support staff, that are more than willing to help your student if they may be having questions or difficulties in regards to this matter. I believe if students are expressing concern, one of the most important things we can do as parents and staff is to reassure our students that their school is a safe place to be and the school has plans in place to do everything it can to keep everyone safe."
He encouraged parents to contact school administration if their child is struggling with the incident.
"I would ask that we please keep the community of Newtown, Connecticut along with all of the families there who have suffered a loss of a child or loved one in our thoughts and prayers as there will be many tough days ahead. I am certain the thoughts and prayers that are being sent from around the world will be a tremendous help," Koppelman said.
Several weeks ago Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson talked to Valley City Public School Administrators about doing some active shooter training with them. He was waiting for them to call back, now he believes they will contact him sooner than later.
"It's pretty horrific," he said.
Dave Opdahl, Litchville-Marion school board president, said Friday, "The utter devastation the families must feel is beyond my comprehension. Although this tragic event occurred many miles away, I believe that it is important to recognize that our children may be fearful that it could happen in their school. We as parents need to talk with, and listen to our children about this event."
The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead in 2007.
Panicked parents looking for their children raced to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, a community of about 27,000 residents 60 miles northeast of New York City. Youngsters at the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school were told to close their eyes by police as they were led from the building.
Schoolchildren ― some crying, others looking frightened ― were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.
"Our hearts are broken today," a tearful President Barack Obama, struggling to maintain composure, said at the White House. He called for "meaningful action" to prevent such shootings.
Dave Opdahl, Litchville-Marion school board president, said Friday, "The utter devastation the families must feel is beyond my comprehension. Although this tragic event occurred many miles away, I believe that it is important to recognize that our children may be fearful that it could happen in their school. We as parents need to talk with, and listen to our children about this event."
Friday Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson said he talked to Valley City Public School Administrators about doing some active shooter training with them. He was waiting for them to call back, now he believes they will contact him sooner than later.
"It's pretty horrific," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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