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Regular drills help Yuma districts prepare for crisis
Yuma-area schools are ready to keep their students safe in times of crisis through regular drills and good coordination.
Teachers at Yuma Unified High School District go through the training at the beginning of every school year.
Superintendent Toni Badone said the goal is twofold: reviewing how staff should react during an incident and how to deal with the aftermath.
During the training, staff goes over the protocols in place should such a violent incident happen in a YUHSD school.
“It's critical how we react,” Badone said. “We do have protocols in place for the safety of students.”
Protocols include lockdowns, which are practiced on a regular basis “to make sure everyone is OK,” Badone said.
In addition, she said, staff at all district schools occasionally receive training in Yuma on how to deal with the aftermath of violent incidents and other types of crisis, such as a major car wreck. The training, called Critical Incident Stress Management, outlines the type of help available to staff and students.
Badone expressed sympathy for the victims and families affected by the Connecticut tragedy. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their community. I hope the whole country gets behind them.”
Schools in the Gadsden Elementary School District have also gone through the training.
Additionally, the district has taken steps to prevent such a tragedy, Superintendent Raymond Aguilera said.
Security is posted at all gates and entrances, and theoretically someone can't just walk into a school.
Still, it's hard to guarantee that a similar tragedy would never happen.
“It's not as easy as it looks,” Aguilera said.
Someone with bad intentions could slip in, “depending on how they present themselves. It's highly unpredictable.”
Cameras are also posted throughout campuses.
In case of an incident, schools lock down until police give them the OK. During a lockdown, he urges teachers and students to “stay vigilant and not overreact and stay calm, but do not underestimate the potential.”
Lockdowns and drills for earthquakes and fire are practiced monthly, Aguilera said.
He added that the district works at maintaining good communication with police, and safety is a board priority.
“One board member is even a member of the police department,” the superintendent noted.
Aguilera pointed out that for the most part, students are safe in school.
“For the number of kids in schools across the country, incidents like these are rare … I feel for any school that goes through this.”
San Pasqual Unified School District has developed detailed procedures and scheduled schoolwide drills for dealing with emergencies. These drills include fire, earthquake, bus and district evacuations and school lockdown.
“We work with our local agencies, Imperial County sheriff and fire departments, as well as Quechan Indian Tribal Security,” Superintendent Dave Bealer said.
He said the district is able to respond to tragedies that involve students and their families with an onsite school psychologist, supplemented by Imperial County Office of Education resources.
Additionally, Bealer noted, staff is provided with training regarding suicide awareness and implementing safety protocols.
Chris Weigel, past Crane Elementary School District communications director, previously told the Yuma Sun that schools follow the “shelter in place” protocol in case of a threat.
The procedure, he explained, consists of the schools locking their exterior and interior doors, turning off the lights and having the students sit down quietly in a group at the farthest point in the room away from the window.
Doug Rutan, superintendent and principal at the one-school Mohawk Valley Elementary School District in Roll, said he has read up on the state training, although his district has not taken the course. He said the school does have a response plan, though, and it was put into place on the morning of June 2, 2011, when a man went on a shooting spree around Yuma County, killing five people in addition to himself and wounding another.
The shooter briefly stopped by the campus looking for the school secretary, Rutan said. The 150 or so children were kept in their classrooms, and crisis was averted when the man left after sitting in the parking lot.
Darwin Stiffler, superintendent of Yuma Elementary School District 1, said the district has undergone multiple crisis trainings in the past few years and that his schools also regularly visit their response protocols.
“Every year, every school in the district updates a crisis plan,” he said.
As with the familiar fire drill, students routinely practice for unexpected and scary events. A network of counselors and good relationships with law enforcement (some schools have on-site school resource officers) and emergency management agencies build a supportive safety net, Stiffler said.
While in a philosophical sense, nothing can really prepare a school for a mass shooting — “When you're facing evil, I'm not sure what can be done” — District 1 is aware and ready, Stiffler said.
“We are attuned to it and are prepared to do what can be done.”