Lake Superior Schools Share Changes to School Safety Since Uvalde

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 8:00 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - On the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde Mass shooting, school leaders reflect on the conversations and changes to student and staff safety since the deadly tragedy.

District leaders say conversations about active shooter drills happen every year, several times a year. But after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, when a gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers, even more changes were made.

Superintendent Jay Belcastro of Lake Superior School District says his district trains and improves its safety procedures year-round. In 2021, the district passed a $44.1 million referendum to add new security entrances to all of its sites. But Belcastro says it’s important they focus on the mental health aspect as well. \

The district now has a partnership with the county public health to have social workers and mental health specialists in their buildings to provide behavioral support.

For Belcastro, the safety of his students and staff is personal.

“My wife is also a Superintendent, it hit me when my mother made that comment, she says ‘I worry about you every day when you both go to your jobs,’” he says, “to answer your question, yes, it weighs heavily on me, I feel that parents send their kids here and it’s our job to ensure a safe environment and we take that job very seriously.”

The Lake Superior School District also discussed its communication protocol. This comes after it was evident the delayed police response in Uvalde highlighted serious flaws in their communication plan.

At Robb Elementary, authorities waited more than an hour before confronting the shooter. Belcastro says, in his district, each school administrator has the authority to make real-time decisions without a green light from the district office.

“When we do these conversations and we do these drills, we tell our staff you’ve got to plan 10-12 minutes of protecting you and your students in the best way that you see fit, if it’s locking down, if it’s countering an attack or if it’s evacuating a building, we give them the authority to make that decision at that time,” said Belcastro.

He says it’s important that while the drills are done, the emotional support component is done as well. Belcastro says for educators, this is not something they want to have to learn, but it’s something that they need to be prepared for. He says as the captain of the ship, providing counselors and support for teachers as they do the active shooter trainings are critical as well.

On June 12th and 13th, all northern Minnesota superintendents and principals will come together for training at Fortune Bay. An expert on crisis management from South Carolina will be leading the course.

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