By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
ST. CLAIR — As a precautionary measure, the elementary and high schools in St. Clair were put on modified lockdown in response to reports there may have been a school shooting in New Prague.
New Prague school and law enforcement officials said the incident turned out to be a hoax, but before St. Clair school officials knew that, they implemented their modified lockdown.
St. Clair Supt. Tom Bruels said he didn’t want to comment on the specific measures involved in a modified lockdown.
“We evaluate each incident and determine what the correct response should be,” Bruels said. “In a situation like this, you don’t always have the luxury of having all the information.”
He said classroom instruction continued uninterrupted and that he told the students: “Because of an incident that took place this morning in New Prague, we’re going into a modified lockdown. There’s no reason to believe we’re in any danger.”
By 10:15 a.m., Bruels said he was prepared to lift the modified lockdown as soon as he received word from authorities that the situation in New Prague had been resolved.
He also said that, since last fall, they’ve been working regularly on a new response plan to incidents involving school security.
St. Clair and other schools in Blue Earth County have been working with the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department since the school year began — and before the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. — to improve security measures.
Regular practice for lockdowns, fire drills and severe weather is all part of life in most high schools.
“There’s some changes coming on how best to respond based on expertise from people who know what they’re doing,” he said.
The goals, Bruels said, are to cut response time, cut through the fog of confusion to save time and, in a worst-case scenario, save lives.
Bruels said they are well into the planning phase and they’ll probably implement some of the changes next fall. Among the changes will be a buzz-in system at the school’s entry. Also, they’re considering a series of locked boxes near building entrances. The boxes would contain keys to the entrance to allow law enforcement or firefighters access to the building.
Next year a film may be used to cover classroom windows. Bruels said that, during a school shooting situation, it’s critical a potential shooter not be able to see inside a classroom.
“Most of these things probably can be done without an exorbitant hit to the budget,” he said.
When the new security measures are in place next year, Bruels expects students and parents will notice that things have changed, and it’s not going to feel the same walking into the school.
“Yes, it will be a change,” he said. “But I think people understand the inconvenience created is outweighed by the safety created for our students.”