LPOSD examines school safety

KOOTENAI — No sensible option is off the table when it comes to safety in Lake Pend Oreille School District.

School board members took their first critical examination of school safety Tuesday night in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last month. Superintendent Shawn Woodward reported that while he was largely impressed with the efficiency of school lockdown procedures, there were many improvements the district could make in both the short and long term.

“This is a huge topic, and it will take a while to get to the end of it,” he said.

School safety protocol follow a few standards goals, according to Woodward. First and foremost, they aim to mitigate crises or prevent them from happening in the first place. They also instill preparedness for worst-case scenarios and effective responses and recovery should they occur.

In preparing for the meeting, Woodward and other district officials visited schools to observe lock-down procedures and visited with police department and sheriff’s office officials to get their input.

“Everyone believes there are some things we can do to be even safer,” Woodward said.

As plans move forward, Woodward emphasized having consistent standards in place by identifying key practices that should be uniform throughout the district. Board members noted that while standardized plans are good when they make sense, they shouldn’t be expected in all areas. For instance, there are key differences to consider when comparing in-town schools with more rural locations.

In the meantime, there are easy security measures to encourage like establishing identification badges for all staff, visitors and volunteers. Staff members who spot any individual on-site without proper identification can instruct them to go to the front office and make sure he or she follows proper procedures. Each school will also identify crisis response teams to manage situations as they arise. Finally, district staff members Matt Diel and Randy Wittwer will visit each facility to inspect line-of-sight restrictions and intercom systems.

Improvements that could come a little later down the road include security cameras in more facilities — Sandpoint High School has more than 50 — and panic buttons connecting directly to the authorities.    

With the idea of armed security guards a popular one among many circles, board member Vickie Pfeifer said it was important to gauge the community’s thoughts on the approach.

“I think we owe it to ourselves and our community to investigate that,” she said.

According to Woodward, any decisions regarding changes to security policy will be accompanied by a major public involvement process. He also recognized the difficulty in choosing an approach due to the wide variety of opinions on the issue.

“There’s absolutely not a right answer to this, because what’s right to me is not right to the guy down the street,” he said.

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