Eastern Iowa school officials say the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Friday caused them to focus on precautions for their buildings to find any weakness in their procedures.
“I think anytime you have a similar incident happen, it’s good pause for you to review your own plans and continue to bring those to the forefront and make sure people are aware and ready as best you can,” said Pat James, principal of Van Allen Elementary School in North Liberty, part of the Iowa City school district.
“We consider that what we have in place is appropriate for what we feel is the risk right now,” said Tom Keating, principal at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids. “Having said that, again, something terrible happens … you revisit that.”
Schools across the country reviewed their security plans after the 1999 mass killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Eastern Iowa schools were no exception.
Among the changes were implementing emergency lockdown plans, installing security cameras and keeping all doors locked at some schools. Practice drills that included police were added to previous routine drills for tornadoes and fires.
While all Iowa City district buildings have individual plans in the event of an armed or otherwise dangerous individual, there is no mandate for them to perform lockdown or evacuation drills. The Iowa Department of Education has encouraged districts to have emergency plans but they are not required.
Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann said the Iowa City district has a template for schools to follow for emergency planning, but administrators choose not to publicize it for safety reasons. In addition, leaving that planning up to the schools allows the people who know the buildings best to tailor those procedures to their layouts.
“Part of being prepared is never assuming you’re prepared. You have to keep working at it,” Feldmann said.
“A tragedy like today is still, it’s difficult,” said James, the Van Allen principal. “I do think teachers are aware of the plan. I think teachers are great at being mindful of kids and the way students respond and being able to manage that the best you can in an emergency situation.”
Keating said the most significant security change he can imagine making in the future is using metal detectors for anyone entering school, something he’s had experience with in much larger urban schools.
Cedar Rapids Superintendent Dave Benson said he would hate to see things come to that.
“Where that, to my knowledge has occurred is where there’s been a tremendous amount of gang activity and there’s been cause to take that kind of step,” Benson said,.
Katie Iverson, an Iowa City mother, has a 3 1/2-year-old son who will attend an Iowa City Community School District school when he is older. She picked him up early from daycare on Friday in light of the Connecticut tragedy, but she is not especially concerned about safety procedures in the district.
“As a parent, you always have fears and anxiety about anything,” she said. “The safety of our kids and us entrusting them is not something (district staff) take lightly.”