School safety questioned

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    By Irinna Schwenke

    Following the gun scare at West Valley City’s Granger High School last week, Provo residents are questioning the safety of area schools.

    “We have learned from Columbine. If tragedies can happen in small towns like Columbine, they can happen in Provo,” said Sandy Packard, Provo resident and parent.

    Concern was sparked after a 16-year-old student allegedly brought a gun to Granger High and showed it to students who then reported it to administrators.

    Packard said communication is the key to ensuring safer schools.

    “Students know a lot about what is going on and I think if communication is open between students, parents and administrators, students will feel free to speak up,” Packard said.

    Nancy Hutchins, Provo School District vice president, is optimistic that school violence is on the decline.

    “Violent crimes at schools have been going down. We have a crisis team in the district that deals with ensuring good plans for school safety. We also work with kids who are at risk to commit violent behavior,” Hutchins said.

    Provo’s district plan for crisis management includes the lock down procedure that was taken by Granger High School last week, said Greg Hudnall, director of student services for the Provo School District.

    During a lock down, students stay where they are, school and classroom doors are locked and drapes and blinds are drawn, Hudnall said.

    Administrators isolate the student with the weapon and deal with them away from the rest of the student body, he said.

    “We hope we never have to use procedures like a lock down, shutdown, or evacuation,” Hudnall said. “But it’s good to know that we have these procedures in case something happens.”

    At Provo High School, no major incidents questioning student safety have occurred, said Clark Baron, assistant principal at Provo High School.

    “We get occasional bomb threats and students will sometimes accuse another student of having a weapon,” Baron said. “Most of the time it is either a prank or a mistaken identity case. But, we do respond to every minor incident.”

    District officials see responding to minor incidents as the reason why no major incidents have occurred in Provo.

    “We nip them in the bud early,” Baron said.

    Most school districts adopt emergency plans from guidelines set by the National Education Association, said Mark Mickelsen, public relations director for the Utah Education Association.

    Educating teachers on what to do before a crisis, during a crisis and after a crisis, are areas stressed by the NEA, Mickelsen said.

    “The school districts have good policies,” Mickelsen said. “Things are always bound to happen, but I think Utah educators do their best to keep our schools safe.”

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