Concerned citizens are calling for local action and solutions to address our community’s safety as the country as a whole continues to be plagued by an epidemic of mass casualty events and school shootings; numbering 300 since 2013, which averages at a rate of one school shooting per week for five years.
The meeting was called in the tragic aftermath of yet another mass-casualty event; this time in Parkland, Florida’s school shootings that killed 17 students and a coach. The meeting had a renewed sense of urgency as the threat was brought even closer to home, when last week a threat from a former student at Riceville Community Schools forced administrators to cancel classes to ensure the safety of their students while they investigated the threat. Similar threats have also occurred in Mason City, Austin, Rochester and several other area schools.
Paul Anderson, a retired educator from Mitchell County organized the meeting, which was held at South Square Community Center in St. Ansgar and attended by several figures with their own unique perspective on the issue, including: Mitchell County Sheriff Greg Beaver, St. Ansgar’s secondary Principal Lynn Baldus, retired Iowa district court Judge Bryan McKinley, President Steve Groth and Director Lindsey Falk of the St. Ansgar Board of Education, Deneen Nelson, English/Spanish teacher and Student Council advisor, Pastor Lance Kittleson of St.Peter/Deer Creek Lutheran congregations. Several other guests were in attendance with some just to listen and others to offer their perspective.
In introducing herself and stating her reasons for attending the meeting, Baldus said,“I don’t ever want to call a parent and tell them their kid isn’t coming home.”
There are no active shooter drills in St. Ansgar, Baldus explained, but the teachers and staff are all trained that the priority is to get the kids and themselves out of harm’s way at any cost, and that arming our teachers is not the answer, vowing she would not carry one herself, and wouldn’t arm teachers: “That’s not the answer, and we know that. [Our teachers] know our students better than anyone, if you honestly think they’d be able to look down the barrel and shoot a student, you’re kidding yourself. It’s hard to know what you’d really do in that situation.”
St. Ansgar Police Chief Lance Schutjer has an office space to utilize on the St. Ansgar School campus and makes a presence at least once every school day, sometimes multiple times daily and Beaver says there is a similar presence from both local and county law enforcement at Osage and Riceville schools daily.
Beaver said that placing an uniformed, armed deputy in a Mitchell County school full-time would come at a rough cost of $100,000 annually, something in his view is plausible but not currently a feasible route for his department or the school boards to cover as they both face ever increasing budget constraints from the state.
The Sheriff’s Department currently consists of 7 full-time sworn peace officers (including the Sheriff), 4 part-time officers who provide supplemental coverage and courtroom security, and 3 full time employees at the Mitchell County Jail.
Beaver says he wants to offer solutions that combat threats before they happen; one of which he proposed that gained great approval from those attending was a streamlined way to share and report threats in the digital age. On the recommendation of Beaver, an app will be developed by a team of gifted IT students from Osage, Riceville and St. Ansgar, designed for anonymous reporting to local law enforcement. The smartphone or tablet app could also be part of a system that includes a phone hotline and a text reporting hotline, with Beaver saying the added layer of anonymity will encourage more information to be shared and help law enforcement stay informed about threats…which may or may not always credible, but is, when the safety of students are concerned, always serious. “People second guess themselves all the time” he says. “Let us worry about the credibility of the threat, you only worry about telling us what you saw.”
There will be another gathering and continuation of the discussion in room 101 of South Square, Tuesday March 6 at 4:00 PM.