After a wave of fear spread across the country following December’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Nevada County school districts are stepping up to practice their own lockdown procedures to improve campus safety measures.
At a Community Agencies Uniting for Safe Schools and Safe Streets meeting Dec. 14, the same day as the school shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children — ages 6 and 7 — and six adults, Grass Valley Police School Resource Officer Jim Amaral recommended Nevada County schools take a good look at the safety procedures in place at Bear River High School.
In order to demonstrate the south county high school’s lockdown process, area administrators and law enforcement officers were invited to watch a lockdown demonstration on the Bear River campus Friday.
The drill showed visiting school officials and first responders that the process may sound complicated on paper, but with practice, students and staff can implement the protocols for a safe and swift lockdown of its campus.
In addition to inviting outsiders to watch, Bear River administrators also notified parents the night before that the school would be running the drill.
“It was neat to see how quickly it was done. It was really impressive,” said Jennifer Dearduff, vice principal at Scotten Elementary School in Grass Valley.
While the visitors were able to watch the drill in action, they didn’t get to see the substantial advance work on the part of Bear River Assistant Principal Cindy Harrison and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Chris Espedal to get the plan up and running.
“Our No. 1 goal is to protect our students and staff,” Espedal said. “We have to do the most good for the most amount of people.”
That work paid off when the lockdown tone sounded Friday with a prompt reaction by students and staff to follow the protocol.
Since the tone sounded during a passing period and students were moving between classrooms, it wasn’t just a matter of locking doors. Students and staff had to get inside, secure the room and be quiet. Inside the room, students silently huddled in a corner farthest from windows with all lights turned off. At the same time, Community Emergency Response Team members and the school’s assistant principals checked to ensure that lockdown procedures were followed.
“We are always throwing a test into the drills and changing things up and preparing for the unexpected,” said Harrison, adding that testing the teachers keeps them thinking about what to do next.
All of this practice proved pivotal in a real-life scenario for Bear River students and staff two weeks earlier, when a reported intruder found his way onto campus.
When the lockdown tone sounded, this time for real, students and staff followed protocol. The intruder was identified and reportedly taken from campus by law enforcement without incident.
“I was super impressed and pleased with how the kids acted in the real lockdown,” said Nevada County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Arbaugh, who serves as Bear River’s school resource officer.
In addition to giving Bear River the chance to practice its lockdown procedure, Friday’s drill also served as a jumping-off point for other county schools to get their own plans into place. Union Hill Elementary School sent two administrators to the drill and implemented its first lockdown drill Wednesday.
“It is clear that (Bear River has) invested a lot of time and energy into producing a quality safety protocol,” said Union Hill Principal Tisha Hamberlin. “I appreciate their willingness to share their expertise as it affirmed the effectiveness of the efforts we have been making from the start of this school year regarding our own safety plan.
“Our lockdown drill (Wednesday) was very positive and helpful in large part because of the help of (Nevada Joint Union High School District) and local law enforcement participation and support of Union Hill. We take student safety very seriously.”
In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, school security plans are being highly prioritized within area districts.
Amaral, a Grass Valley resource officer who spends much time on school campuses, said he does not want to wait for a local disaster before schools become prepared.
“A tragedy happens and everyone wants to practice,” Amaral said. “My job is to not allow complacency.”
Shelby Angus is a senior at Bear River High School and a regular contributor to The Union. She can be contacted through Managing Editor Brian Hamilton via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 530-477-4249.
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