Richland School District administrators discuss safety procedures

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 19, 2013 

More safety and security drills. Building modifications. Heightened awareness from staff and parents.

Richland School Board members heard reports from district administrators during a Friday retreat on procedures to protect students in the event of a shooting -- such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut -- or another crisis.

Lockdown drills and other rehearsals are conducted regularly, and the district enjoys a good working relationship with law enforcement, administrators said.

"Every time something happens we learn how to do things better in the future," said Joan Gribskov, the district's safety coordinator.

But board members said they want to increase the district's focus on school security, to a level where it is a more important consideration than fire safety.

"Quite frankly, I'm worried less about fire than I am security," said board Chairman Rick Jansons, adding it has been decades since a student died because of a fire in a U.S. school.

There are some conflicts between fire safety standards and those for security. Jansons encountered similar conflicts in work he did at Hanford and fixing them will come down to priorities, he said.

"It really makes me angry to drop off my little girls and wonder how good is our security if a nutjob decides to go in (their school)," he said.

The board requested information on school security and safety measures at a meeting days after the Sandy Hook massacre. Gribskov, along with acting superintendent Rich Puryear and assistant superintendents Mike Hansen and Todd Baddley, offered details on how drills are conducted, including scenarios with student actors and no notice to school staff.

Jansons wants to see a vulnerabilities assessment of each school in the district by an outside agency, he said. He and other district officials declined to discuss details of deficiencies in specific schools because of the possible risk to students. Some of those deficiencies are based on how schools were designed and built, and the district may need to make renovations.

"I think we're going to have to go through the schools one by one," said board member Mary Guay.

Richland isn't alone in taking action following the tragedy in Connecticut. The Pasco School District reviewed procedures and called together educators and law enforcement leaders to provide security recommendations. A report on those efforts is expected at the Pasco School Board meeting Tuesday night.

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