Jessica Jensen | Managing Editor
It’s not a situation anyone likes to have to think about — a dangerous person in the school, students screaming, teachers working to protect themselves and students. Following the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Iowa Legislature passed Senate File 2264 mandating schools in Iowa to have a strategic plan in place by June 30 for such a situation. The bill also calls for schools to practice that plan. During staff development Wednesday, Sept. 12, once all students were gone from the building, administrators and staff at Central Lyon put their plan to the test.
“This could be one of the biggest disasters or it could be one of the best teachable moments we’ve ever had,” said superintendent David Ackerman. Staff members were instructed to review the crisis plan and be where they would be, doing what they would be doing, during a regular school day at 1:20 p.m. They were notified they would be participating in a drill but were not provided specific details.
The district has implemented ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active shooter response training in the past, giving staff experience in preparing for a situation. “We always have questions like ‘What if I’m at recess? What if I’m in the lunchroom? What if … ?’ None of us can answer that for another. You’re each going to have to answer that for any particular situation you’re in during the day,” Ackerman told staff of one of the reasons for conducting the drill. “This is about analyzing what we have here, what we’re doing and our particular situation,” said Ackerman. “Every school’s situation is different so you can’t put a blanket answer or plan on everything.”
For the drill, Central Lyon administrators worked with Lyon County Sheriff’s deputies Mark Dorhout and Chad Klosterbuer as well as Lyon County Emergency Management coordinator Arden Kopischke, who posed as an active shooter. The shooter walked the hallways of the school, firing 20 blank rounds. He started in the north hallway of the high school, made his way through the high school commons, down the hall, up the stairs to the junior high and upper elementary hallways and down to the lower elementary halls.
The draft of the crisis plan instructs faculty and staff to utilize the district’s public announcement phone system to make an all-call, informing everyone in the building of the situation. This was one piece of the plan Ackerman hoped would be carried out during the drill. However, it did not go as planned. “We picked up errors right away,” he stated. “What I wanted someone to do — and I think a couple people tried to — was to get on the PA system and report it,” he explained to the staff in a drill debriefing afterwards. “Each one of you has the power to pick up the PA system and report something. What happened instead is some of you tried to call Amy (Sprock, high school secretary) and someone called Rhonda (Menning, elementary/middle school secretary) who eventually made the all-call. That’s too slow.”
It was discovered the wording in the plan created some of the confusion, as well as the phone line becoming jammed.
“When you try to make that all-call, if you do not hang your phone back up or you get nervous and drop it, that all-call is gone. You’re leaving the line open,” explained Steve Breske, director of buildings/grounds/transportation at Central Lyon.
Several teachers also learned they couldn’t hear the gun shots until the shooter was outside their room. “I heard noises but it sounded like a textbook dropping or a locker door slamming,” said high school math instructor Kyler Huisman. Most staff members asked for clarification on when to make the all-call if they’re not certain what they’re hearing is gun shoots or where the shooter is. “Today was a drill and we were conserving ammo so you have to realize in a real-life situation it’s going to be shot after shot after shot,” said Dorhout. “It’s not going to be two shots, pause while he moves, then more shots while you wonder, ‘Do I need to call that in or what do I need to do?’ You’re going to hear screams, chaos. You’re going to know to alert that,” Dorhout said, reminding the staff to provide as much information about the shooter as possible in that alert.
During the drill, approximately half of the teachers and staff went into lockdown in classrooms while nearly half evacuated to a designated reunification site. Ackerman reminded staff of lockdown protocol as well. “If you’re in lockdown you have to be prepared to fight, to be quiet, to hide — whatever you have to do,” he said. “Some told me they spent the week before this drill surveying their classroom for things they could throw at an armed intruder. It’s vitally important to think about these things if we were to have this kind of tragedy happen to us,” Ackerman added.
“This drill brought us to basically three options: run, hide or fight,” said Ackerman, applauding the efforts of the staff. “Nobody needs to be a hero in this,” he said. “If you have saved yourself, consider how to save as many students as you can. The whole situation is going to be save yourself and save as many kids while saving yourself as you can.”
School administrators and a staff committee will work on revising the district’s crisis plan following assessment of the drill. The district will also work with local law enforcement, emergency management and fire department on several items, including setting up a blockade around the school’s perimeter and reunification centers. School officials are also working to develop a notification to be sent to parents in the case of a similar situation as well as fine-tuning other action items.
The drill, while uncomfortable for many, provided a learning opportunity for all, according to Ackerman. “I hope you walked away from today with knowing what our procedures are if this were to happen, knowing we have to work on a plan for this, and also taking a hard look and analyzing where you work, what you do, the students you have and what you would do in this situation.”