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Education is Key: Sheriff, Law Enforcement Give School Safety Seminar - from The Messenger

February 22, 2023

In a time when names like "Sandy Hook," "Stoneman Douglas" and "Uvalde" elicit traumatic reminders that not even schools are always a safe haven from violence, local law enforcement and school officials want to make sure they are on the same page as parents when it comes to school safety in Fort Dodge.

On Tuesday evening, the Fort Dodge Community School District invited district parents and staff to a meeting at the Fort Dodge Middle School auditorium to learn about the district's safety protocols for threats in and around the schools

"School safety is something we take very seriously," said Jen Lane, the district's director of communications.

Webster County Sheriff Luke Fleener shared the safety protocols that have been in place for incidents of crisis at the schools.

"Our goal is twofold," he said. "One is to educate and share with all of you what we have been doing for over the last six years to ensure the safety … but maybe more important than that is to answer your questions. We want to answer your questions and get everyone on the same page."

The school district and local law enforcement use the Standard Response Protocol created by the I Love U Guys Foundation after a deadly school shooting in 2006.

"We are not reinventing the wheel," Fleener said.

The SRP lays out what to do in different emergencies like when to hold students in a classroom (the lowest-level of emergency response), secure outside doors but remain business as usual inside, lockdown the building, evacuate and shelter in response to a hazard.

The secure and lockdown actions in emergencies involving an intruder or otherwise violent threat helps buy time until law enforcement can arrive, Fleener said. The average response time for law enforcement to respond to this kind of crisis at a school is three minutes, he said.

"In Fort Dodge, it's less than that," he added.

The purpose of Tuesday's presentation was to inform parents of the existing safety protocols.

"Education is the key," Fleener said.

Fleener also addressed concerns about communication with parents and the public during an emergency.

"Our very first responsibility in any crisis - fire, tornado, medical emergency, lockdown - our first priority is the safety of our kids," he said. "Sometimes that delays that communication response."

He said the school and law enforcement will get information out to parents and the public about emergency situations as soon as they can.

Following Fleener's presentation, Fort Dodge Police Capt. Dennis Quinn shared the success that law enforcement and the district had in responding to a threat at the middle school last fall.

On Sept. 28, someone had alerted the school resource officer at the middle school of a potential threat of a student with a gun in the school. The SRO immediately alerted school administration and started the lockdown procedures.

"It was the right call to make," Quinn said.

Within three minutes four FDPD officers arrived at the school, Quinn said. By 12 minutes after the initial report, 18 law enforcement officers from both the FDPD and the WCSO were on scene.

"We flooded the school with people as quickly as we could," Quinn said.

Officers were able to quickly locate the student suspected of making the threat - a 13-year-old boy - and pulled him from the class to detain. The student was later charged with making a threat of terrorism and first-degree harassment.

Although the suspect was in custody, the school remained in lockdown as law enforcement did a systematic search of the building as part of the investigation before the students were released class-by-class.

"I can assure you, the training does work," Quinn said. "I was proud of the response from all the law enforcement agencies that day and I was proud of the staff we had to work with."

Quinn also explained that in situations like the September incident, when parents hear that something is happening and they come to the school while law enforcement or other emergency services are trying to work, it pulls resources from the investigation or emergency response because officers have to go handle the crowd outside instead of focusing on the situation inside the building.

"I know it's a tough subject to talk about," Quinn said.

When parents hear something is wrong, they want to get their child, he said. But parents should wait for instruction to come from the school or law enforcement on either when the scene is safe or where they can pick up their child.

At the end of the meeting, Lane informed parents that in the next month, all the district's schools will be conducting lockdown drills with the students.

"The next natural step is getting our students involved," Lane said. "As parents, we want you to be comfortable with it so that you can help your kids be comfortable with it."

She said more communication will be sent out to parents prior to the drills.

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