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Published October 11 2012

Area schools: Security starts with environment

MOORHEAD – In the wake of Thursday’s apparent suicide attempt at Fairmount (N.D.) High School, local school administrators were reminded of one of their darkest fears: a student bringing a gun to school and using it.

“It’s everyone’s worst nightmare,” said Wayne Kazmierczak, assistant superintendent for Moorhead Public Schools.

With the shock comes two realizations: Virtually no security measures can eliminate the possibility of such an event altogether, and the best protection comes from a positive environment.

Most area high schools have a handful of physical security measures: contingency plans, controlled entrances and exits, security cameras, and sometimes resources officers from the police department.

In some high-crime areas, schools also implement stricter measures such as metal detectors and bag checks. That’s not the case locally, and Kazmierczak said such steps do not guarantee safety.

He pointed to a deadly school shooting in Red Lake, Minn., in 2005, in which a metal detector did not stop or deter the shooter.

Instead, Kazmierczak said, the Moorhead district focuses on providing support for students and letting them know it’s OK to talk about their problems, including mental health issues.

“It’s about relationships with students,” he said. “It does come down to creating an environment where students are safe and they also feel safe to talk to an adult.”

It’s much the same story in Fargo. North High School Principal Andy Dahlen said the school sponsors a number of events and workshops during the year focused on curbing the social friction that can turn disagreements into crises.

“The first thing that schools have a responsibility to do is create a school culture that’s accepting of people’s differences,” he said.

Like other area schools, North High has implemented a text-a-tip program so students can easily and anonymously alert officers via text message to potential dangers or peers at risk.

David Flowers, superintendent of West Fargo Public Schools, said it’s up to everyone in the school to keep an eye out for brewing problems.

He said many tragedies turn out to have many warning signs after the fact.

“Everyone must be vigilant,” Flowers said. “

He said creating a safe environment goes hand in hand with new anti-bullying policies schools adopted this year by law.

“We’re just trying to make sure that people are conscious of what they can do to make the school a safe place,” Flowers said.

For Flowers, Thursday’s incident echoed a harrowing past experience with a school shooting. He was an administrator at a high school in Junction City, Kan., in 1993 when a student brought a gun to school and fired it during a confrontation, seriously injuring a bystander.

“It can happen anywhere, and it’s more likely to happen when we let our guard down and don’t try to provide support for our students in many different ways,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502