Schools Rely on People to Prevent Violence

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

News of a school shooting in Northern Minnesota begs the question, what can schools do to prevent the violence? Police say a Minnesota teen killed himself after taking the lives of several people at a local high school.

"There's 110 doors onto this building. Kids are very welcoming," principal Jerry Movrich says.

But greeting a visitor to Stoughton High School serves a dual purpose.

"If they see a stranger or a person they don't know, they're supposed to confront them and ask them what they're doing," safety coordinator Dennis Barkenhagen says.

Because a school's best safety plan is its people.

Movrich says, "In a school here of almost 1,200 students, we're constantly assessing how can we personalize the environment to break it down into smaller units. So if a student is having a problem, our support people can deal with that effectively."

That philosophy makes communication key to preventing violence.

School psychologist Mary Grace Ott agrees, "I would say we really depend on word of mouth, kids tapping into other kids problems, trusting the adults in the building to come talk with them, trusting the adults will handle it properly."

Meantime, other adults like safety coordinator Dennis Barkenhagen look for more tangible ways to maintain safety, like hall monitors and ID badges.

"We have radios in everybody's hands to communicate back and forth," Barkenhagen says.

You won't see many of the safety precautions in place here at Stoughton High School, but you will find a keyless entry system. It allows staff to control the locks on these doors by computer.

"What we're learning is to be proactive, rather than reactive as much as we can," Movrich says.

Stoughton has no metal detectors, no surveillance cameras keeping watch. People hope to watch out for one another.

"As they read and hear about these things, they want a safe environment too and kids here at Stoughton H.S. feel very safe and very comfortable," Movrich says.

The safety coordinator says the district also will consider security cameras for the parking lots.

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