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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 07 2013

Freedom Elementary in West Fargo sees expanded police presence

WEST FARGO – West Fargo police had a stepped up presence at Freedom Elementary School Thursday morning, following three phone threats to the school Wednesday that led to a lockdown.

Squad cars began patrolling the area around Freedom about 6 a.m. and continued to have a presence as children were dropped off, Principal Jeff Johnson said at a news conference at the Leidal Education Center.

Johnson said he and other staff members were also in the school commons, available for questions from parents and to reassure students. An officer is also at the school today, but not stationed at the door, he said.

Officers will also be at tonight’s parent teacher conferences, Johnson said. He expects the school’s routine to return to normal by Monday.

While a police officer is not stationed at the school, unlike the middle and high schools that have school resource officers, school district officials said the students regularly see officers in the building for drug and alcohol programs.

“I think it gives the parents peace of mind as well as staff members,” Johnson said.

District spokeswoman Heather Konschak said the district would not comment on the nature of the threats, when they were transmitted, or their credibility. She said those questions should be directed to the police, since they are running the investigation.

Joan Houdek, Freedom’s school counselor, said she has been the lone counselor available to help students and staff, but that “it’s been relatively quiet.

“There is a relative calmness about the place,” she said.

Houdek said parents can do several things to help their children better process the experience:

• Be present with them and listen. That may include letting them write down their feelings in journals.

• Don’t overtalk the situation in explaining what occurred.

• Reassure students that they are safe in their schools.

• Maintain a normal family routine.

Freedom Elementary opened last fall. It is south of Interstate 94 and about a half mile west of Veterans Boulevard.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583