FAIRMONT - Fairmont police officers visited schools first thing this week to let their presence be known to students, staff and parents, in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.
While the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary is physically distant from Fairmont, it brings to mind the worst fear of parents and bears a review of safety procedures already in place at local public and parochial schools.
Fairmont's chief of police, Greg Brolsma, met with Fairmont Area Superintendent Joe Brown, along with administration and custodial staff Tuesday morning to review safety policies and identify any ways to make it stronger. Brolsma also is meeting with staff at the two parochial schools in Fairmont - St. John Vianney and St. Paul Lutheran.
Police are meeting with teachers at the public school today to determine whether there are other ways to increase student safety in the event of a shooter entering a building.
Brolsma noted that each time there is a school shooting, law enforcement learns more about ways to manage these situations, if they were to occur again.
"A lot of the things people are thinking of doing we have already done," Brown said.
Safety procedures are already in place, ranging from requiring all visitors to check in at building offices and carry a badge declaring them a visitor; to outside doors being locked during the day; to regular practice in handling red alert lockdowns of buildings. Secure offsite locations have been identified to move students if need be, and an armed school resource officer with training in school violence is in place at Fairmont Area Junior and Senior High School.
Brolsma said law enforcement works regularly and closely with schools to review their emergency plan.
"Nothing is perfect," Brolsma said. "You can't prevent everything. We have identified some tweaks."
Those "tweaks" involve items as seemingly as minor as ensuring keys to classrooms are easily identifiable and usable in an emergency. Another item that could save time is having doors numbered from the inside as well as the outside, so staff can quickly tell law enforcement their locations.
Brolsma estimates police are within two minutes of the school at any time.
Brown, who was working in the Le Sueur-Henderson district in 1997 when a student opened fire and shot a police officer in the school, doesn't take student safety lightly. He said the student who shot the officer was identified the day before by classmates and the district was ready for a confrontation when it occurred.
Brown advises students and parents who have concerns to contact the school.
"We have social workers, counselors ... we have a lot of caring people," he said.
The junior and senior high school has 96 security cameras while the elementary has 72. Staff is trained to stop anyone in the building without a visitor's pass and direct them to the office.
"This is not just a school issue," Brown said. "This is a community issue. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open."
Brolsma said school shootings are part of a broader problem, including workplace violence.
"A lot of businesses don't have a plan in place," he noted.
Law enforcement is continuing to train and revise its response plan in the event of a shooting or other threat. Police are planning a community training session in March.