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The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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School district, police department hold active shooter drill at GMS

The simulation at Grinnell-Newburg Middle School allowed police and educators to test emergency response plans. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

On April 18, Grinnell Middle School hosted a district-organized active shooter drill. Participants included volunteering high school students and faculty, as well as Emergency Medical System workers and Grinnell police. The drill, like many emergency simulation drills, was the result of a collaboration between Poweshiek County emergency management coordinator Brian Paul and public services such as the fire department and the police. 

According to Grinnell-Newburg Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Janet Stutz, the drill was entirely staged, and Paul was the only one who knew the exact plans. Observers were placed at the event in order to provide assistance for any students who felt uncomfortable during the drill and wanted to leave.

“Kids are going to come in, be set up and staged. … Some kids might act like they have a wound. … There will be observers there, a lot of different EMS people, various police departments. … About 100 students and teachers will be participating,” Stutz explained. 

The purpose of the ambiguity of the drill was to create a scenario that felt as real and unpredictable as possible, in order to determine the effectiveness of current safety measures and emergency response services. 

“What I hope to see is that our emergency safety plans are in order, our procedures for instructing students are in pretty good shape and in order. … I’m hoping for the most part that we have a pretty good plan we are able to test,” Stutz said.

Effectiveness was to be measured mainly through timing — how long it would take for students to be evacuated, for emergency services to respond and for police to identify and neutralize the threat. In addition, the simulation tested some basic checks. For instance, teachers should have their class rosters and be able to identify their students. 

After the drill was finished, participating students and staff were provided pizza while emergency services and the drill planners met to debrief. Next steps will include determining what aspects of the emergency response plan need to be fixed. Stutz believes that one of the main flaws at present is the cell reception — or lack thereof — in the middle school. In addition, the school office is located far from the entrance, so visitors do not have to immediately pass through before gaining access to the rest of the school.

However, according to Stutz, the remote location of the office is not the only flaw in the school design. The superintendent noted broader issues, including the need for a better storm shelter, safer entryways, better emergency contact systems and even increased ADA compliance, including wheelchair accessibility.

“We did not pass the bond [referendum] at the last go-around, and part of the building bond plan was to have a storm shelter in the middle school and at the elementary building,” Stutz said. “There are so many different safety features that we have to think about.”

Furthermore, the middle school may not be the only corporation building lacking in safety features.  According to Stutz, many of the schools appear to be reaching the end of their intended life spans.

“These buildings are, on average, 62 years old, and … it’s going to cost $60 million to fix them all … and that’s dollars you don’t want to put into the building, because it’s not going to extend the life of the building. The average life of a building is 65 years,” Stutz said.

Stutz continues to believe that one of the most effective ways to fix the existing issues and improve the safety of the buildings would be to pass the bond measure which has been turned down by voters in two consecutive referenda, most recently in February of this year. Stutz plans to bring the plan back to a vote for a third time on September 11. If it were to pass, according to Stutz, the money could be used to upgrade and rebuild the schools, so that a number of the missing safety features would be created or improved.

“The $60 million would include building a brand new elementary school for pre-k through 5th grade, completely gutting and redesign of the middle school and renovat[ing] portions of the high school,” Stutz wrote in a follow-up email to The S&B.

While she considers it important that safety precautions be taken, Stutz does not think that Grinnell is more at-risk for school gun violence than any other community. One of her main priorities for minimizing any existing risk is to pay close attention to mental health and the needs of students.

“I think that any community could potentially be at risk, no matter where you are in the country,” Stutz said. 

That said, the reaction of the Grinnell community to the drill has not been exclusively positive. Regardless, Stutz maintains that it is important to be prepared.

“Some people disagree with us doing this full drill. There [are] people who think we shouldn’t be doing a full drill with students. But I think it’s only going to help us make sure we’re as prepared as possible,” Stutz said.

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