Safety First: How Schools Protect Students, Urge Lawmakers to Act

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  After several mass shootings, particularly in schools, administrators in Iowa are assessing their school security plans and trying to figure out what they need to change.

Phil Roeder with Des Moines Public Schools said they work closely with the Broward County School District in Florida because they are in the same group called the Council of the Great City Schools. Any time a tragedy like a school shooting happens across the country, it affects everyone in education.

One administrator said school shootings have become a big part of the culture in the United States.

“I think it’s really a shame that we have to even focus on this, and it’s unfortunate but it’s part of our culture now, and it really detracts from the learning and education. Teachers used to have to just worry about reading, writing, and arithmetic, and now they’re worried about protecting their students from bullets,” Iowa School Safety Alliance board member Jane Colacecchi said.

Many schools are already practicing for all types of disasters in central Iowa.

“That involves everything from doing drills with our students and staff. Everything from lock downs, to fires, to tornadoes, to our school resource officers. We have eight Des Moines police officers that work for the school district. We also have our own security staff. We are one of the only school districts in the state of Iowa that has a full-time security staff that monitors safety systems and cameras and things like that,” Roeder said.

Colacecchi said after so many school tragedies, security and preparedness are not enough--the issue goes deeper.

“I think it’s important for schools to look at behavioral threat assessment training as an option. To be able to recognize in their individual students who may pose a threat to the student body,” Colacecchi said.

Roeder said there is only so much law enforcement and schools can do to prevent and prepare for the worst.

“We are not a prison, we’re not, we don’t have lockdown situations where you defend the perimeter of a school grounds and things like that. And that’s why we really need lawmakers at any level, whether it’s the state level or the federal level, to step in and really get serious about gun violence,” Roeder said.

On Thursday, Iowa lawmakers discussed a bill that would require schools to have in depth security plans in place, but the Iowa School Safety Alliance and DMPS said legislation on gun reform also needs to be part of the conversation.

“It brings both law enforcement and emergency management to the table," Colacecchi said. "So you have the people that are experts in training as well as the people who are experts in planning working together. And it also builds a relationship of responders within the community and helps improve collaboration prior to an emergency happening."