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December 18, 2012
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Community officials raise awareness, ensure safety at Nevada County schools

Erica Maddux, a mother of three, says that since Friday’s tragic shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 dead, including 20 students, sending her youngest off to school has been difficult.

“It’s been hard. Yesterday and today were hard,” Maddux said Tuesday. “Scotten and Gilmore (schools) sent out an automated message from the principal, letting everyone know they were doing the best they can to protect (students).”

Maddux said preparations can only go so far, considering tragedies can happen anywhere, also alluding to a mall shooting in Portland in November.

“There are so many fears now,” Maddux said. “Just going into (a mall), you never know what can happen.”

In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut, local law enforcement, school teachers and administrators, as well as parents, seek to raise awareness and to ensure children are safe in western Nevada County schools.

“I know parents and schools are very sensitive in light of what happened and as a result we are providing greater visibility on the campuses, or at least around the campuses,” said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, whose department has long stationed officers on high school campuses.

School Resource Officer Jason Spillner said he is one of the two SROs serving at Bear River and Nevada Union high schools, and was instructed to visit more schools after Friday’s incident.

“We were briefed on getting out to more schools and getting around and being seen more,” Spillner said. “We generally on a regular basis get out to schools and it’s not uncommon for us to be seen at numerous schools throughout the day.”

Royal said parents can also take preventative steps.

“This is a two-fold issue,” Royal said. “Our desire is to provide increased security and safety, and at the same time encouraging parents to take steps that as a personal matter weapons in homes are secured so they are unavailable to someone who may want to do something and it goes without saying: lock houses, windows, cars, and if you have weapons, secure them in a safe so that it renders it so that a child can’t hurt themselves.”

Grass Valley Police Department has also taken measures to raise the visibility of its officers and patrol around schools.

“We’ve been more highly visible out and around the schools and just reassuring,” said GVPD Captain Rex Marks. “There’s nothing going to change what’s occurred on the East Coast, however we are going to make every effort to prevent what we can as part of the ‘always be prepared for the worst and hope for the best’ and help prepare schools to make them as ready as possible.”

Nevada City Police Department maintained the typical level of patrolling, according to Nevada City Chief of Police Jim Wickham.

“Obviously we’ve been patrolling the school grounds prior to the shooting,” Wickham said. “There hasn’t been a formal request for extra patrol in Nevada City schools, but we are just being diligent and watching the schools as we normally do.”

Around area campuses

Dan Zeisler, superintendent of Chicago Park Elementary School District, said he is reviewing safety procedures with staff and is scheduling another lockdown drill sooner than originally planned.

“I’ve decided to review our lockdown policies in detail with my staff and we have scheduled lockdown practice drills and I’m bumping it up to the week we get back from winter break just to be on top of things,” Zeisler said.

Zeisler said he wants to be aware and prepared, but also wants to avoid frightening students.

“We want to be really conscientious when dealing with children,” Zeisler said. “We don’t want to put a sense of fear in them. It could happen, but we don’t want them to focus on something like that because it’s going to be distracting. We’re certainly acknowledging what’s going on and have a safety plan in place.”

Scott Lay, superintendent of Clear Creek School, said he plans to tweak some of his school’s emergency plan to make entrances and exits more secure.

“We are going to change it so the only entrance into the school is visible by the office,” Lay said. “We have been reviewing our safety plans, and letting parents know what we do and practicing,” Lay said.

“You can never be fully ready for something like that, but we’re as prepared as a school can be.”

Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said the time is too sensitive to do a drill for students, but that his district will review its safety plans.

“The last thing we want to do right now is a drill with the heightened fear,” Fredrickson said. “We all have pretty
well-established safety plans and you look at those again to see if there are any gaps in communication and to all be on the same page.”

Fredrickson said one of the challenges is making sure visitors check in with the office before entering the campus.

“It’s a pretty open facility and I think the biggest thing is that you can’t have exceptions — you and your purpose for being on campus need to be identified.”

Meetings with law enforcement, the fire department, and the school administration are scheduled once a month to discuss safety concerns and planning, and another meeting is scheduled with Grass Valley Police Department Friday morning.

“So many agencies and resources have been cut so it makes it even more challenging, but we have pretty good coordination and avenues to do that,” Fredrickson said.

Information collaboration

Union Hill School District requested officers to patrol the school and is planning a forum for 6 p.m. Jan. 10 with Grass Valley Police, Nevada County Sheriff’s Department and the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services.

“It’s really important to bring parents together to communicate, for them to be able to ask questions and have the agencies
there to show support,” said Union Hill Superintendent Susan Barry.

Barry also said Union Hill will be looking at funding an inside lock system for all classrooms, making a stranger unable to open classroom doors.

“We received $1,000 from the Elks Club and will solicit donations to install inside door locks,” Barry said.

Marianne Cartan, superintendent of Nevada Joint Union High School District, sent a statement to staff from the emergency preparedness coordinator Chris Espedal on updated safety procedures, noting that a security camera system has been installed on the Bear River High campus and that Community Emergency Response Team training was completed for safety teams on all school sites.

“Each Nevada County school district has a School Safety/Emergency Plan in place,” Holly Hermansen, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, said in a statement following the shooting. “We continue to review, revise, and update these plans to reflect best practices.”

Hermansen provided a link to “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers” at http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/talkingviolence.pdf.

Maddux, whose three boys attend school at Scotten, Ready Springs and Nevada Union, said lunch with her youngest child alleviated some of her anxiety.

“It felt good to go there and I saw the kids having lunch and everyone was happy and the teachers were playing Christmas music,” Maddux said. “I guess everyone is just trying to move forward.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4230.

“There are so many fears now. Just going into (a mall), you never know what can happen.”

— ERICA MADDUX


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The Union Updated Dec 21, 2012 10:09AM Published Dec 22, 2012 08:02AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.